Unusual times can call for unusual measures. Joey Labas relates to that.
With the COVID-19 pandemic creating a college football recruiting dead period that began in the middle of March and has been extended through August, prospects adjusted. They took virtual visits, meeting with coaches and looking at campus on-line.
Labas went a step further. After receiving an Iowa scholarship offer on May 20, the Ball State verbal commitment and his family traveled from their home in Ohio to Iowa City. They knew the NCAA dead period prohibited them from getting together face-to-face with Hawkeye coaches or receiving a guided tour of campus. They could walk around campus unaccompanied by university staff and check out the town, however.
They found the trip worthwhile. That along with conversations with the coaches led to Labas flipping his commitment from the MAC school to Iowa on June 10. He felt comfortable with the decision.
“I have had a few FaceTimes with coach Kirk Ferentz as well as (quarterback) coach (Ken) O’Keefe. Most were with my parents. They spoke about the culture and history of Iowa. They spoke about their past, stories of being in Ohio and their times there. We spoke about Iowa, and the similarities and differences between Iowa and Ohio,” Labas told HN.
Ferentz and O’Keefe made him feel wanted. And the limited stop in Iowa City served its purpose.
“Myself and my parents loved our visit to Iowa City. Despite not being able to go inside any facilities, I thought the stadium definitely stood out as did the hospital right next to the stadium where the famous tradition of waving takes place. That was really cool to see,” he said
“Then just the vibe that Iowa City brings was really special. The river that flows in the middle of campus was neat as well. I liked everything about it. The food was fantastic as well.”
As a junior, Labas (6-3, 190) completed 174 passes for 2,355 yards and 23 touchdowns against two interceptions for Brecksville-Broadview Heights (OH) High. He also rushed 69 times for 486 yards and nine scores.
While scouts prefer labeling quarterbacks by their styles, Labas makes that difficult. The Iowa coaches obviously see him fitting into their pro-style system.
“I have been through multiple styles of offenses. I can run any type. I can go under center, play-action, sit in the pocket, everything a pro-style quarterback is meant for. People can’t forget I was considered a pro-style quarterback most of my recruiting process,” he said.
“You’ll get those plays in games where someone doesn’t do their job or the defense throws a curveball at you, and you’re in trouble. Most pocket-passing quarterbacks will have to take the sack or throw it away. I have a chance to extend the play and potentially get out of what seemed to be a disaster and make it into a positive play.”
While Iowa didn’t come forward with a scholarship offer until the end of May, it had been building a relationship with Labas. When the opportunity arrived, he welcomed it.
“Once coach O’Keefe and coach Ferentz pulled the trigger on me, I knew I would be in good hands. Their history of coaching and the success they’ve had in the past is just crazy to me. I wanna see what it’s like to be coached by big-time coaches at a big-time program that would do everything they could to make the best version of myself,” he said.
Labas has bonded with O’Keefe, who began coaching in 1976. He spent five years in the NFL and has assisted Ferentz for 16 seasons at Iowa.
“I really like coach O’Keefe. We’ve been in contact since December, and I would always love talking to him. His history with quarterbacks speaks for itself. I have also heard he is a great teacher. I’m excited to go under his wing and see what we can do together,” he said.
“Coach Brian and Kirk Ferentz are very easy people to talk to. That’s something I really liked about them. That doesn’t happen often with recruiting. My relationship with them is strong and will continue to grow for when I’m finally in the swing of things at Iowa.”
Labas comes into a crowded quarterback room. The projected starter in ’20, Spencer Petras, is a sophomore. His backups, Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan, are freshmen.
“I knew about this and made sure with my head coach that I wasn’t potentially going to make a mistake. We have watched their film and evaluated them. They are really good, but I also believe I have something that they lack. That is extending plays and using my feet. I also did not commit to Iowa to be a backup. I will compete for the spot and see what happens,” Labas said.
The 247 network ranks Labas as a four-star prospect and the No. 11 dual-threat quarterback nationally in ’21. Rivals sees him as a two-star and a pro-style quarterback.
Here’s a look at his junior highlights: