He transferred from Division II Sioux Falls as a walk-on, sat out a year, and now has one to go as part of Iowa's WR group.
Kyle Groeneweg is still featured prominently in the West Lyon High School gymnasium. He owns the school record by covering 200 meters in 21.69 seconds en route to a state championship in 2014.
So if you want to know how Groeneweg emerged as this spring’s “Iowa wide receiver to watch,” start with his speed. He’s always surprised people with how fast he is, Groeneweg’s high school coach, Jay Rozeboom, said last week.
“This guy’s just smaller and shiftier,” Rozeboom said of the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Groeneweg. “He can cut on a dime and he’s fast while he does it.”
Groeneweg used that sprinter’s speed to help lead West Lyon to a 2013 state football title. He had 62 carries for 475 yards and 12 touchdowns that season, plus 18 receptions for 381 yards and another six scores. He even returned a punt for a touchdown.
And somehow never got recruited.
“I think we had a really, really good class,” Rozeboom said of that senior group that included Hawkeye safety Brandon Snyder. “(Groeneweg) went right from football to basketball the next day and there was some recruiters that came through he probably didn’t talk to and maybe he should have.”
While Groeneweg’s childhood friend Snyder walked on at Iowa, he stayed closer to home, walking on at the University of Sioux Falls, a Division II school in South Dakota. He wasn’t without a scholarship for long.
“He pretty much blew by people at that level,” Rozeboom said.
Despite playing for a team with a running quarterback, Groeneweg caught 24 passes for 402 yards and five touchdowns as a Sioux Falls junior in 2016. He also ranked seventh in Division II with 891 combined kickoff and punt return yards. The team went 12-1.
But coach Jed Stugart left after the season to take over the program at Lindenwood in Missouri. He brought most of his staff with him.
Suddenly, Groeneweg had a big decision to make.
"He was very loyal to that coaching staff," Rozeboom said. "So he decided: His dream was always to play at Iowa and, 'It’s now or never.'"
The Hawkeyes brought Groeneweg aboard as a walk-on. He sat out the 2017 season and then, to the surprise of many, emerged on Iowa’s depth chart this spring as a second-stringer at split end behind sophomore Brandon Smith. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz touted Groeneweg’s “shiftiness” (there’s that word again) when reporters asked about him. He’s in the mix to be a punt returner as well.
West Lyon is the alma mater of former Hawkeye star and current special teams coach LeVar Woods. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the small school in northwest Iowa will have five players on the Hawkeye roster this fall. Groeneweg was already joined by Snyder and defensive lineman Jake Newborg, who will be a junior this year. Now, Brandon’s younger brother Jaden Snyder is joining tbe crew, along with fullback/linebacker Monte Pottebaum. West Lyon is churning out Hawkeye walk-ons these days.
Brandon Snyder turned that opportunity into a starting role.
Rozeboom won’t be surprised if Groeneweg does the same.
“He’ll do anything he can to make the team. He’ll catch the ball and run afterward really well — he’s fearless,” Rozeboom said.
“Those receivers at Iowa have to be able to block, and Kyle is not afraid to block. He’ll stick his nose in there and get dirty.”
This is heady stuff for a player who arrived on campus practically unnoticed. It is reminiscent of the career arc of last year’s spring sensation wide receiver, Nick Easley.
Easley, a Newton native, became a Hawkeye after two years at Iowa Western Community College. He was a player coaches were touting this time last year — and backed up that buzz, leading Iowa with 51 catches for 530 yards and four touchdowns last fall.
“What Nick did last year was great,” Groeneweg told reporters after Iowa’s spring practices ended April 20. “I think we all kind of inspire each other in the receiver room. … Not just looking at one guy to take us to the promised land, so to speak.”
Groeneweg did not participate in the Hawkeyes’ final practice session, which was open to the public, as he nursed a hamstring injury that he termed "not serious." So no fans have really seen what he can do. Yet.
“I got to learn the playbook a lot more this spring. Playing at different spots, outside or slot. I think that’s my biggest growth, is just mentally,” Groeneweg said.
“I’m trying to help any way I can — special teams, offense, it doesn’t matter. Wherever coaches want me to fit.”