Iowa football: Incoming Hawkeye Henry Geil has stories to tell, and hopes for many left to write
Henry Geil hasn’t yet suited up for the Iowa football team, but he made a key decision last fall that he believes led to the Hawkeyes’ latest monumental upset.
Geil, a star running back from Green Bay, Wisconsin, was on a recruiting visit Nov. 4 when Iowa hosted third-ranked Ohio State. As his guest, Geil brought childhood friend Brody Stitz, a Carroll native and rabid Hawkeye fan.
“I think he’s probably the reason we won,” Geil said last week, referring to his giddy buddy, who kept predicting all the crazy happenings in Iowa’s 55-24 dismantling of the Buckeyes.
Amani Hooker’s pick-six on the opening play of the game? Stitz called it.
Tyler Kluver’s reception on a fake field goal? Stitz was a step ahead of that, too.
“He just gave me this smug look for like five minutes,” Geil said of Stitz, laughing at the memory.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Stitz, who hadn’t been in Kinnick Stadium since age 6, and said he made sure to soak up every second of the access he got.
But what impressed him more was that Geil even thought to bring him on the trip at all. Many recruits want to share such moments with parents or siblings.
“He knew that that trip would mean so much to me. And I think that just says everything about Henry Geil,” Stitz said. “He really does have a big heart. He cares so much about football, but he cares more about the people around him.”
For Geil, a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder who rushed for 2,119 yards the past two seasons at Preble High School, the Iowa-Ohio State game provided an additional lesson. It struck him how much the Hawkeyes are like his high school team, which seemed to spring at least one upset each fall but never could ascend to powerhouse status.
“We always beat teams that we quote ‘shouldn’t beat,’” Geil said. “But at the same time, I’m like, ‘Man, I want to be the team that shouldn’t be beaten.’ That’s what I want to do at Iowa.”
Geil much more than just a star football player; he's an active leader
Geil has no time for your jock stereotypes. He is as involved as any of Preble’s 2,100 students. He never wanted to be the kid that wore his letter jacket everywhere and expected special treatment.
Geil’s football team may not have won a state championship, going 11-9 the past two seasons, but he has trophies from other activities.
He and a friend got a perfect score in an acting competition, winning a state forensics title for their scenes from the 1975 comedy classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” He enjoys public speaking, either reciting famous speeches or ones he has written himself.
Geil wrote an essay about African responses to changes on the continent from 1500 to the present, picking up another Wisconsin award.
He participated on Preble’s academic decathlon team, served on the Preble Pride Leadership Group and was president of the Diversity Leadership Club.
“I’m assuming so. I’m hoping so,” Geil said when asked if he’s made a difference at his school.
“He could be that cool guy who could do nothing with the school and just play football, but he doesn’t do that,” he said of Geil. “He keeps everyone involved and he takes leadership not only on the football field, but everywhere.”
For example, Geil said he used to do intense workouts five days a week on his own at the school, getting ready for his college playing days. But this year he devoted one weekday to some core exercises followed by passing on his football knowledge to younger athletes.
“To analyze offense and defense at a higher level, why wouldn’t I teach them that? They can’t steal my job if I’m leaving,” Geil reasoned. “I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t try to pass off what I’ve learned to someone else.”
Tim Larsen, Geil’s football coach at Preble, appreciated how outspoken his star player was.
“A lot of good athletes just want to lead by example. He’s also very vocal,” Larsen said. “When we needed a spark, we needed a player to get the energy level increased, he was the guy to do that.”
Geil gives up baseball for football, gives up wide receiver for running back
The athletic talent was always there. Stitz moved with his family to Green Bay at age 9, and Geil was one of the first boys he met. They were on the same baseball team and Geil was the best player. Stitz was astonished when he later learned that Henry was only 7 at the time, playing up one level.
Baseball was Geil’s first love. He was an outstanding pitcher and outfielder. By the time he got to high school, though, he found other players his age were gaining on him on the diamond. Not so on the gridiron.
Geil has been all-in on football ever since.
There was an interlude as a sophomore where Geil agreed to play wide receiver as a way to get on Preble’s varsity squad a year early. He was a little dismayed to catch only 12 passes for 195 yards.
“I was like, ‘That’s varsity football? That’s it?’” Geil said. “I started wondering if football was my thing.”
By his junior year, with his weight up to 190 pounds, Geil was back at running back, splitting time with a senior but still gaining 784 yards with 14 touchdowns. He considered it a subpar season, but colleges took notice.
“He’s very downhill, very physical. He’s not the type of player who’s going to generally shy away from contact. His running style is just gritty,” Larsen said of Geil.
“He’s comfortable in space. Some of his highlights are spin moves that he made at a relative sprint in the open field.”
Iowa State was the first to offer a scholarship.
Stitz found that out and went to work, texting his friend: “You’d better not go to Iowa State because I know an Iowa offer is going to come.”
Stitz was bluffing, but proved prescient again. Iowa did want Geil. That interest led to offers from Michigan State and Indiana as well.
Geil didn’t want his recruitment to linger into his senior season. He was most comfortable with the Hawkeyes. He gave them his word last April.
“He wanted to have all that stuff taken care of prior to the season because he didn’t want to become a distraction,” Larsen said. “I thought that was really selfless of him, because you see so many high school players now, they’re waiting and then picking a hat up off the table or making it a big production. And I don’t think that’s him.”
Geil was a marked man by opponents in his senior season and still managed to pick up 1,335 yards with 17 touchdowns. Larsen said they wanted to throw more passes to him — to take advantage of his excellent hands — but they couldn’t call screens with two or three defenders always keying on Geil.
Geil also spent the fall getting to know his future Hawkeye teammates better. He earned the nickname “The Instigator” among parents of incoming recruits because he was always the one stirring up good-natured mischief when they got together.
He couldn’t help notice that Iowa is thin at the running back position, having graduated Akrum Wadley and James Butler. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz has said that there is a chance for Geil and fellow freshman Samson Evans to earn immediate playing time this fall.
“I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think about it every day,” Geil said. “The dog in me is like, ‘I’m going to take what’s mine.’ It’s kind of a weird battle. You don’t want to be too overbearing. You’ve got to figure out how to keep it low-key and not say much. But at the same time, I think everybody mutually knows we’re going to be trying to get on the field. That’s the ultimate goal.
“I need to show that I’m physical. That’s the main thing, because the way we run the ball and the way the conference that we’re in is set up, you’ve got to be physical in order to stay on the field. I don’t want to be one of those guys that takes five hits and has to go off every three plays.”
Two old friends share a poignant moment when Geil signs with Iowa
Geil’s goal is to not have to redshirt this fall. He believes that is something he can control.
Just like choosing Iowa in the first place. It was Geil’s decision. But Stitz gave him a big assist, payback of sorts from their time playing football together.
Stitz played tight end at Preble. He vividly recalls one play when he was supposed to execute a reach block on a defensive end, pushing him to the inside so Geil could break outside.
“I completely missed him and ended up pushing him outside. I remember Henry cut back and ran for a touchdown. He just completely changed directions so quick,” Stitz said. “I was like, ‘Man, Henry, you just saved my ass on that play.’”
Flash forward to the weekend Geil received his official offer to play for the Hawkeyes. Stitz was quick with a text again, this time telling his friend they needed to talk first thing when they got to school Monday.
Stitz then handed Geil a pen and said: “When you’re ready to sign with Iowa, use this.”
Stitz was joking. Geil was not.
When it came time to put his signature on a National Letter of Intent last winter, Geil was sure to use the pen Stitz, the lifelong Hawkeye fan, had given him for the occasion.
The ink was black; the memories were golden.