Scheel shifts promise into production with first career catch

Chris Cuellar

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The pressure from all the preseason talk was lifted by a broken tackle.

A promising athlete out of Mount Auburn and Union High School, Jay Scheel waited two years and then an unexpected extra week to make a play as a Hawkeye.

A 12-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 42-3 win over Iowa State finally put him on the stat sheet. Scheel is no longer pure potential.

“Going into the game, I wasn’t really about, ‘I’ve got to get one catch,’” Scheel said Tuesday in Iowa’s Football Operations Center. “I was trying to go out there and do my job.

“I happened to get a catch. I’m happy to get it out of the way, get one in the books, but I’ve got to keep working.”

Scheel was one of seven Hawkeyes (2-0) to catch passes from starting quarterback C.J. Beathard against ISU, picking up a first down after safety Kamari Cotton-Moya initiated contact behind the line of scrimmage.

Iowa wide receiver Jay Scheel runs down field during the Hawkeyes' game against Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.

It was a quiet first-and-10 call in a game that was counting down the seconds, but for the redshirt sophomore receiver, it was a long time coming.

“It’s good for him to finally get that out of the way,” Beathard said Tuesday. “I know it’s been a long road for him. Hopefully he can keep it going from there.”

A redshirt year in 2014 was followed by an injury-altered 2015 campaign for Scheel. Being on the sidelines for Iowa’s 14 games resulted in no recorded statistics and as many memorable moments.

For a former prep star who won a Class 3A state title as a sophomore quarterback, Scheel and his coaches and Hawkeye fans expected more. Nagging issues from a high school knee injury slowed his recovery.

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But that versatile playmaking ability — 88 total high school touchdowns, including four returns — was back on display for the Hawkeyes this offseason.

“At the end of bowl prep in December, we saw him moving around like we remembered him from high school,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in the preseason media guide. “He looks to be healthy; he works hard and has a great attitude. It would not surprise me to see him ascend this year and start to take off; that would be great for the team as well.”

Spring practice performances and that high praise from Ferentz built up Scheel’s hype. His name on the depth chart at wide receiver behind the speedy Jerminic Smith added to it.

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Then his progress hit a snag.

Hamstring issues sidelined him from practice in August. And a quad strain put the season opener against Miami of Ohio — a highly-anticipated offensive debut — back on ice.

“I wanted to play, but I knew before the game I wasn’t going to,” Scheel said. “I talked back and forth with the trainers about it.

“It was frustrating because I was excited to get to play. There are going to be bumps in roads. It’s a long process and I’m going to be here for a long time. … I’ve just got to keep pushing and keep working.”

But the 6-foot-1, 195-pound target finally got his chance against Iowa State. Scheel took his lone target on a short drag from the right side, caught it as Beathard was hit hard, shook off Cotton-Moya and cut up-field.

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It wasn’t the type of play and production that would flip Ferentz’s depth chart. Yet Scheel appears to be comfortable as a quick, agile option behind starters Matt VandeBerg, Riley McCarron and Smith.

He said he's ready to make a bigger impact, starting Saturday at Kinnick Stadium against five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State (2-0). Besides the one career catch, Scheel has a personal statistic Hawkeye fans should be happy to hear.

“I feel 100 percent,” he said.

Iowa wide receiver Jay Scheel signs autographs during the Hawkeyes' spring game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2016.