Geno Stone makes his case for more playing time in Iowa secondary

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After the best game of his Iowa football career, Geno Stone needed to clarify one comment from his head coach Saturday.

The topic was Stone’s recruitment — and whether he actually hid in a closet rather than come out and speak to Kirk Ferentz on the telephone.

“I was hiding in my room,” Stone said. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody.

“But it’s kind of true.”

Stone, a Pennsylvania native, was set on going to Kent State two years ago, after most of the big schools had passed him over despite an outstanding high school career. The decision would have kept him closer to his mother, Erin.

But the Hawkeyes came after Stone late in the recruiting process and their persistence paid off. Erin Stone made Geno get in a car with her after one of his basketball games and drive through a snowstorm to visit Iowa City.

“My mom basically told me this was the best situation for me,” Stone said.

Said Ferentz: “I’m about in my 18th month of trying to figure out what other people missed. We really liked him in recruiting; just seemed like our kind of football player.”

Iowa defensive back Geno Stone (9) comes down with an interception in the end zone during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Bloomington, Ind. Iowa won 42-16. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Stone, a sophomore, has been pressed into starting duty the past two games for Iowa. The Hawkeyes have won both. He has an interception in each, both in the red zone.

In Saturday’s 42-16 victory over Indiana, Stone’s perfect read of a pass play allowed him to leap to snare the football in the end zone and snuff out whatever last-gasp attempt the Hoosiers had of getting back into the game. Everyone from Ferentz to teammate Parker Hesse pointed to that moment as pivotal in securing victory.

“He’s not 6-2 (Stone is 5-foot-11), and he’s maybe not a 4.4 (sprinter), but he’s a good football player,” Ferentz said. “So for him to make that play (Saturday) doesn’t surprise me at all. He just has a way of being in the right spot (at the) right time, and he’s got a real good energy to him.”

Stone stood out to his coaches and teammates from the time he arrived on campus last summer. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker dropped his name in interviews, noting with appreciation how Stone was always around the football when reviewing film from practices.

Stone got his first chances to contribute late in his freshman year. His first interception came in a win over Illinois. He had eight tackles in relief of the injured Miles Taylor in a rout at Nebraska.

He’s built on that the past two weeks, as Iowa (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) has needed to replace injured linebacker Nick Niemann. The decision was to move safety Amani Hooker down closer to the line of scrimmage. And that was only possible because of the confidence coaches have in Stone to take Hooker’s spot.

Stone had three tackles and the interception in a 48-31 win at Minnesota. That earned him another shot against Indiana. This time, he produced five solo tackles (one for a 2-yard loss), forced a fumble and came up with the pick that essentially sealed the outcome.

“He’s a guy that works hard, prepares. He’s there in the film room with me and Hook, going over adjustments, going over shifts and motions,” senior safety Jake Gervase said of Stone. “And it’s exciting to see him do well.”

Stone has forced Ferentz and Parker into a welcome dilemma of sorts: Niemann could return for Saturday’s 11 a.m. homecoming game against Maryland (4-2, 2-1). Does that mean a return to the sideline for Stone?

“I’ve shown them I can be out there and play with the ones all the time. And I’m trying to build confidence each week, trying to build my resume here,” Stone said.

But he knows the decision isn’t his to make. And Stone said he’s certainly not going to question his coaches.

The mantra for players in that situation is: “Stay ready, not get ready,” said linebacker Kristian Welch, who should know. Welch started at middle linebacker for the injured Jack Hockaday on Saturday.

“You have to kind of strap up,” added Welch, with Hockaday also in line to possibly return Saturday.

Stone seemed to still be amazed that he’s in a Hawkeye uniform at all. He recalled the day 21 months ago when he made his commitment at New Castle High School. He was due to sign at 11 a.m. At 10, he was still consulting with his mother. She gave him the peace he needed to sign the piece of paper.

“It hit me a lot that I was going to leave,” Stone said. “Then, when I got here, it felt right.”