Notebook: Geno Stone Heads Back to Pennsylvania with Something to Prove
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Penn State showed plenty of interest in Geno Stone when he was in high school. The Nittany Lions invited him to their prospect camp and singled him out as one of the top players. They hosted him on numerous unofficial visits. They told him they were going to offer a scholarship.
They didn’t. It’s fueled him.
The Iowa safety heads to State College with the Hawkeyes this Saturday for a matchup with No. 17 Penn State. The former New Castle (PA) Senior standout is looking forward to it.
“My senior year they told me they were going to offer me and they never did. It kind of stuck with me the last couple of years. It is what it is,” he said.
Stone was all set to attend Kent State with Penn State and the other Power 5s taking a pass. Even when Iowa came forward with an offer during the last week of recruiting, he was going to turn it down. He was frustrated by the lack of attention from big schools throughout the process. Michigan State offered him then pulled it back within a few days.
“I was going to stick with Kent State. I was tired of these schools messing with me. I was going to stay close to home with my mom,” he said.
Then Erin Stone stepped in. She wasn’t going to let her son miss out on an opportunity at a free Big Ten education without him at least taking a look. Off they went to Iowa City.
“I didn’t want to come. I didn’t know where Iowa was on the map. I didn’t know anything about it,” Stone said. “She told me not to pass up an opportunity. You never know what’s going to happen. I thank my mom every day for that.”
Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz wondered what was up when he watched Stone’s highlights. He was surprised more schools weren’t recruiting him.
“My first question when I saw film was, What is wrong with this guy? Did he rob a bank. He looked like a good player to me,” Ferentz said.
Other schools told Stone he wasn’t big or fast enough. That never stopped the Hawkeyes before.
“Geno is a little bit understated, but he’s got a good energy to him. Again, he’s not the tallest guy, fastest guy, but I think he’s a pretty good football player. For what we do, he fits in pretty well. Seems to be our kind of guy,” Ferentz said.
Iowa struck gold with other under recruited players from Pennsylvania. Stone had a connection to one of them. His uncle, Jeff Scrim, played for New Castle Senior when it faced former Hawkeye great Bob Sanders, then at Erie Cathedral Prep. Sanders also received no other Power 5 offers other than Iowa.
“I knew of him but I wasn’t born yet. (The Iowa coaches) told me a lot about Bob and Desmond King when they started recruiting me and that I was one of those guys. It’s a great thing to be compared to those guys with what they did here,” Stone said. ”
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While he won’t go overboard in talking about the significance of this week’s game, Stone is motivated. If nothing else, he’s feeling the crush of ticket requests for Saturday’s game. He’s handing off the responsibility to his mother.
Stone played as a true freshman last year. Most of his work came on special teams but he stepped in at safety late in the year when injuries hit.
“When I first got here, I thought I was going to red shirt. I was making plays during individual drills and special teams and they put me on kickoff team like the second week of camp. Later on in the season, I gained more confidence in what I was doing,” he said.
It appeared he would be relegated to special teams again this season with Amani Hooker and Jake Gervase locked in as the starting safeties. However, Iowa has employed a nickel package with Stone starting at the strong spot and Hooker moving into the box. It’s worked well against opponents trying to spread out the defense, which Penn State will do this week.
“I knew my role was going to be bigger this year. I just didn’t know when or how it was going to happen,” Stone said. “I’m trying to make the most of my opportunity.”
Gervase and the veterans guided Stone last year when he started the season finale at Nebraska. They’ve noticed a lot of growth in the sophomore since then.
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“I think he just keeps progressing in terms of knowledge of the game, the knowledge of our defense,” Gervase said. “Hooker and I are kind of upperclassmen guys, the guys with the most experience, but he’s becoming one of those guys. We want him to become more vocal and step into one of those leadership roles. That’s something he’s going to continue to do throughout the season.”
Stone has shown a propensity for the big play. He’s picked off two passes and broken up another this fall. He also racked up a tackle for loss.
INJURY UPDATE: Linebacker Jack Hockaday returned to practice this week after missing the last two games with a leg injury. Ferentz indicated that Kristian Welch, who started in the middle during Hockaday’s absence, would get the nod again against Penn State.
The coach did not provide an update on fullback Brady Ross, who hurt his leg at Indiana two weeks ago and missed last Saturday’s contest with Maryland. Ferentz said last week that he didn’t expect Ross back for a few games.
Cornerback Matt Hankins was cleared to play against Minnesota and Indiana despite a big cast on his arm. He then sat out against Maryland.
“We’ll see,” Ferentz said about his status for this week. “He’s not 100 percent right now. We’ll see what it looks like by the end of the week. He’s not 100 percent right now.”
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An update also was not provided on running back Toren Young, who left the Maryland game with an upper body injury. Ferentz spoke in general terms about a few guys that were dinged up Saturday.
“We had a couple guys nicked up in the game. I think everybody does at this time of year,” he said.
TRUE FRESHMEN PLAN: Three Hawkeye newcomers have participated in five games, therefore preventing them from using the new rule allowing them to play up to four contests and still red shirting. Defensive backs Julius Brents, Riley Moss and Kaevon Merriweather have exceeded the limit.
The coaches are taking it week by week with the rest of the true freshmen.
“We are well aware of the four-game rule. Perfect world you want to wait till November, then you have four games to play with it. Also we’re trying to win right now,” Ferentz said.
“I think our attitude really is if somebody can go in there, if we have a need, somebody can help us, we’re going to play them regardless. Then we’ll deal with it at the end of November if it’s a factor. If it means a guy plays in five games, that’s a decision we’ll have to make because we’re going to be trying to win then, too.
“We’re far enough along where we know enough about those guys in that pool, the other part is how does that pool look relative to injuries, that type of thing.”
Linebacker Dillon Doyle played in Week 1 then sat out until seeing action against Maryland. Iowa had a need at the position do to injuries.
Henry Geil and Nico Ragaini also have played in two games. Tyrone Tracy, Spencer Petras and Tyler Linderbaum have seen action in one contest.
EXTRA POINTS: Ferentz said he wasn’t campaigning for senior defensive lineman Parker Hesse to be the team’s MVP, but the coach believes a case can be made for it…Hesse, Gervase, Nate Stanley and Keegan Render are this week’s captains…Ferentz said there hasn’t been any discussion about moving linebacker Amani Jones to fullback despite him falling to third team at middle linebacker. The coach didn’t think that change would be likely.