Iowa’s offense finally showed signs of consistency against Northern Iowa last week, thanks in large part due to the contributions of two former junior college players from Council Bluffs’ Iowa Western Community College: senior wide receiver Nick Easley and sophomore running back Mekhi Sargent. Easley led the team with ten catches for 103 yards and a touchdown while Sargent contributed 72 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both players will be looked at as significant contributors to the offense during the rest of the season; Easley is Iowa’s most well-rounded receiver, and Sargent’s impressive 48-yard reception out of the backfield on Saturday displayed the elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability that should solidify his spot in the running back rotation even after Ivory Kelly-Martin returns from injury.
Iowa Western producing Division-1 football players as talented as Easley and Sargent is hardy a surprise to those who have followed the Reivers’ program. Despite not playing college football before 2009, Iowa Western has quickly become one of the most dominant community college programs in the country. The Reivers won the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship in 2012, played for another national title in 2014, and have won multiple conference championships since their inception. Iowa Western and Mekhi Sargent were even featured in the opening episode of the third season of Netflix’s hit documentary series Last Chance U, where the Reivers demolished the show’s featured program (Independence Community College) 70-21.
Easley and Sargent aren’t the only Hawkeyes to arrive at the program by way of Council Bluffs. Junior wide receiver Dominique Dafney and junior linebackers Nick Anderson and Colton Dinsdale are all alums of the Iowa Western football program, and a few former Hawkeyes such as Andrew Stone and Eric Simmons also suited up for the Reivers before coming to Iowa City. Arguably the most important transfer from Iowa Western is Daviyon Nixon, an exceptionally talented defensive lineman currently on academic redshirt for the Hawkeyes who spurned Alabama during his recruiting. Nixon is on track to begin his playing career at Iowa in 2019 and has the potential to be an instant impact player on the defensive line.
With a junior college program as strong as Iowa Western in-state, it’s worth wondering why it’s taken this long for the Hawkeyes to establish a consistent pipeline from Council Bluffs to Iowa City. Programs like Kansas State, Mississippi State, and Louisville have long found success by heavily featuring stand-out community college players, while junior college alums Cam Newton and Nick Fairley led Auburn to a national championship in 2011. Iowa has not historically recruited community college players with much frequency, but they certainly found their share of gems when they have; Brad Banks (Hinds), Marshal Yanda (Northern Iowa Area), Amari Spievey (Iowa Central), and Nathan Chandler (Pasadena City) all played for community colleges before donning the black and gold.
Iowa has also missed out on some good players from Iowa Western. Jake Waters, an Iowa native who quarterbacked the Reivers to their national championship in 2012, set passing records for Kansas State as a two-year starter for the Wildcats and accounted for 31 total touchdowns as a senior in 2014. Isaiah Johnson was a standout safety for both Kansas and South Carolina and has made a nice career for himself with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both players were overlooked by the Hawkeyes and certainly could have served as valuable contributors, if not outright starters.
The Hawkeyes’ most frustrating misses from Iowa Western have come at wide receiver, a position at which the Iowa seems to be perpetually in need of a talent upgrade. Iowa missed on recruiting current Green Bay Packer wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who proceeded to have a breakout season for Illinois in 2015. Allison is on track to be real contributor to the Green Bay offense in 2018, and it’s hard not to imagine how potent the 2015 passing game might have been had Allison joined Matt VandeBerg and Tevaun Smith as targets for CJ Beathard. More recently, Iowa failed to target Anthony Johnson, a legitimate NFL prospect at wide receiver out of the University of Buffalo who tallied 1,300 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in 2017. Every coaching staff is going to miss on a few talented players, but it is frustrating to see in-state talent thriving at other schools, especially when Iowa has so consistently struggled to find production at the wide receiver position.
Still, the successful recruitment of Easley, Sargent, and Nixon hopefully signals a greater commitment from the Hawkeyes to more frequently tap the recruiting pipeline to Iowa Western. Hopefully the next Division-1 stars to emerge from the Reivers’ program will join their fellow alums in playing for the black and gold.