WE JUST FINISHED UP ANOTHER SEASON OF RECRUITING FOR IOWA FOOTBALL. This week, we profiled the newest group of walk-ons that will join the Hawkeye Football Program next season. The walk-on group doesn't get as much press as the scholarship group. They are equally important, especially in a developmental program like Iowa. We wanted to know what life is like as a walk-on at Iowa. We are fortunate to have former Hawkeye Steven Staggs talk to us about that very thing.
Staggs was an in-state prospect that was part of the walk-on class of 2008. He came to the Hawkeyes from Oskaloosa, Iowa. He first saw game action in 2011 on special teams and at wide receiver. He had five receptions for 45 yards in his career. He also earned Academic all-Big Ten honors.
He's on Twitter if you'd like to ask anymore questions. He's a good follow and I recommend:
Seeing Carver and all the students makes me miss being at Iowa. Once a hawk always a Hawk!— Steve Staggs (@S_Staggs83) January 29, 2014
Q- You had other opportunities following high school including scholarship money from Northern Iowa, Army and South Dakota. What made you decide to pass on those opportunities and walk-on to the Iowa Football program?
SS- Growing up in Iowa, and being an Iowa fan, Iowa was where my heart was always set. It was tough turning down other scholarship offers. My family said they would help me all they could, but it would be something I would have to pay for myself. Iowa State offered me a grey shirt really late in the process and Air Force came in with a late offer. I had visits scheduled to both those places set for after my official to Iowa. After I took it, I cancelled the other two and knew where I wanted to go.
Q- Iowa's program has several stories of walk-ons becoming all-Big Ten and even NFL players. Does Iowa sell itself there or did you need more convincing?
SS- Like I said, growing up in Iowa a knew all the success stories: Kevin Kasper (who coincidentally I am real good friends with now), Dallas Clark, Sean Consindine and Brett Greenwood. There's the under the radar guys like Bob Sanders, Chad Greenway and Robert Gallery. I knew coming in that this program wasn't built on four and five-star guys, but tough, hard-nosed guys who just wanted a chance.
Q- What exactly is a preferred walk-on? How is that different from a player on scholarship?
SS- A preferred walk-on, the way it was explained to me, was that they were recruiting me the same way as a guy they wanted to put on scholarship. They invited me to camp my first year and I had a chance to compete right away. Really, there is no difference between and preferred walk-on and a scholarship player, other than who's signing your tuition check.
Q- Did you have input on your position or was it decided by the coaching staff? Was your future position discussed during the recruiting process?
SS- Somewhat. I think it was established pretty early in the recruiting process that I was going to be a WR. I think I remember Coach Ferentz giving me the option on my visit, but I think we both knew they were wanting to use me as a WR. Everywhere was recruiting me as an athlete. I think Nebraska and Iowa State were places recruiting me as a safety. But I always felt my best position was WR and that's what I really wanted to play.
Q- What were some of the goals you set for yourself when you arrived at Iowa? Did you achieve those goals?
SS- My first goal was to earn a scholarship. That was my day one goal and I fortunately accomplished that my Jr year. My next goal was obviously to get on the field in any way that I could, which I also fortunately accomplished. My last goal was to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches as a good football player.
I'm a big respect guy, it's just how I was raised. To me, getting the respect of those 120 guys plus coaches each year was probably my top goal. I couldn't always control reps or playing time, but I could control the way I played the game and came to work day in and day out. I felt I more than accomplished that in my time there. I even had guys like Gary Dolphin and Ed Podolak tell me multiple times I was one of their favorite players. To me, that showed a lot.
Q- You took a red-shirt your first season and then it took a couple of years before you got playing time. Was there ever a point where you asked yourself if it was worth it? What motivated you to continue forward?
SS- Of course there was. I actually came a few days away from transferring on a couple occasions. I had phone calls made and everything. But the main thing I didn't want to do was quit. I don't think I've ever quit anything in my life and to walk away from something I had dreamed about my whole life just seemed like a wasted opportunity to me. I also have so much respect for Coach Ferentz that I didn't want to let it seem like he wasted an opportunity on me, I was just always so grateful to him for the chance he gave me, and still am. I think just about every guy in the program goes through similar things at one point or the other. Very rarely, and Coach talked about this all the time, does a guy come in and smooth sail through the program without any setbacks. I think that's what makes us who we are as a program.
Q- Did you feel that special teams would be your best chance to see the field early in your career?
SS- Absolutely. We were told from day 1 that the best way most of us were going to see the field early would be special teams. That was fine with me too. I just wanted to be on the field and contribute anyway that I could. Special teams at Iowa carries its own prestige and guys took a lot of pride in their jobs. I remember we had the #1 return unit in the Big Ten my Jr year. All of us on that unit took a lot of pride in that.
Q- You earned academic all-Big Ten honors. How did you balance football and your school work? As a walk-on, do you receive the same academic services the scholarship athletes do?
SS- Yes I did. Once you're in the program, you have the same access to everything just the same as the other guys. My advisers did a great job of helping me out whenever I needed it and were a valuable asset to me in my time there.
Balancing football and school is an art that every player has to learn their freshman year. If you don't, it's a tough road ahead. It just becomes habit that you know each day when your workouts are, when your classes are, and when LC hours or free time are.
Once that routine is established, you don't know any different. You can't live like every other college student because you're not like every other college student. Everyone sees the finished product on Saturdays in Kinnick, but they don't see the hours of practice, workouts, classes, film, study hours, and treatments that are apart of each players day-to-day routine.
Q- You were awarded a scholarship your junior season on campus. Describe how that works. Does Kirk Ferentz hold a ceremony or is it a personal meeting between the player and coach?
SS- Actually, mine kind of happened in a weird way. I was driving back to Iowa City and I got a call from Chik saying I needed to go sign my scholarship papers. I was like, "but I'm not on scholarship?" He said, "you are now." I'll never forget where I was or how that moment felt. I think any former walk-on can relate. I don't know why my position coach didn't call me but I then had a meeting with Coach Ferentz that next day and he just congratulated me. No big show or anything. After that, all the coaches and my teammates congratulated me and I could tell that they really meant it, which is another thing that I will never forget.
Q- You played for both Ken O'Keefe and Greg Davis. What are some of the biggest differences between the two offensive coordinators? How did the routes and or responsibilities of the wide receiver group change?
SS- Coach O'Keefe and Coach Davis are both great coaches. They both are tremendously smart and have a great passion for the game. There really wasn't too much of a personality difference between the two. Both were higher energy guys who loved the game of football. They would tell you when you did something good and let you know when you did something bad. They always were coaching and trying to make you better.
As far as routes and responsibilities go, football is still football. Besides some different verbiage and some tweaks here and there, it's all the same stuff. The concepts stay the same. The defense can still only do so much, and you still have to catch the ball. I think I really turned a corner as a player once I started to understand the concepts of offensive football and what we were trying to do each and every play. It slowed the game down for me a ton.
Q- How challenging was it learning a new playbook after four years of studying another?
SS- Really, to me, it wasn't that challenging at all. Like I said before, football is football and concepts stay the same. I was an older guy who had been around football for a while, so that probably had something to do with it. But I didn't only take time to learn one position, I tried to learn all three or four spots. Once I was able to do that, I was rarely caught off guard.
I also took that as a responsibility to help the younger players learn. So much of knowing what you're doing on offense is recall-memory. You need to be able to think quickly, see and react. I had seen things for a long time and that helped me to be able to help out other guys who were still learning. If I wasn't getting 10 balls a game, I knew that was my role, to help guys learn. Because at the end of the day we are all on the same team.
Q- What advice, if any, would you give to Iowa's current group and future groups of walk-ons?
SS- My advice would be to stay the course. You will probably take on more challenges than most other players on the team, but I think that is why so many walk-ons have gone on to be so successful as Big Ten and NFL players. We're just wired a different way. Remember what your goals are and utilize all the resources you have. I don't think there is a better coach in America than Coach Ferentz. I don't think there's a better strength coach than Coach Doyle, and there is no better place to play on Saturdays than Kinnick Stadium. If you're there for the right reasons, making it all the way to Sr. Day and all the events in-between are more than worth it.
Q- We spoke with former Hawkeye Rafael Eubanks a couple of weeks ago and he said that Senior Day was one of the most rewarding days of his life. With all you accomplished; earning a scholarship, academic honors and playing time, would you say the same?
SS- Absolutely. The group of guys that you come in with (scholarship, preferred walk-ons and walk-ons) is a pretty big group. You are standing there on Sr. Day and that group is maybe 1/3 of the size as your first day on campus. That's a pretty amazing accomplishment considering all the things we go through. Iowa is not an easy place to be a football player.
I believe we work harder than anywhere else and we have to. I know guys who played in the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, or other Big 10 schools, and it just doesn't compare to the type of work we put in as a team. I think with that comes a mentality and a perception from the outside. And to make it through that type of program for five years is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. I'm sure Raf felt the same way I did and I'm sure the guys who make it five years from now will also. Nowhere else or with no other group of guys would I have wanted to do any of that.
Q- Besides Senior Day, what are some of your favorite memories of your time at Iowa?
SS- There's really so many. The first big one was beating Penn State in 08. Not only was it being a part of a huge upset win in an amazing environment, but one of my longtime best friends, Tyler Sash, made one of the biggest plays of the year. That was a great night for both of us because growing up together we always dreamt about playing for Iowa and to see him make a play like that was pretty amazing.
Also, winning the Orange Bowl and beating Northwestern in Kinnick at night in '11 was something pretty special. Not my first catch, but my first big 3rd down play I made against Michigan State in '11 as well. Beating NIU in Solider Field. Getting Floyd back my senior year after two-straight tough losses up there was pretty great. Beating Michigan State in overtime up in East Lancing and the locker room scene after is something I won't ever forget. And finally, just the longtime friends and family I have in the Iowa program. It's a special fraternity to be a part of. It doesn't matter if you were one year apart, ten, or thirty, were all brothers and can relate to each other in a way you just never will be able to with anyone else.
Great stuff and again, thank you to Mr. Staggs for taking the time to answer our questions. And since he brought it up: