Rick Nelson knew he had a solid football team at Ankeny High School.
The head coach had one wide receiver, Brody Brecht, who had committed to Iowa.
On the first day of practice, he had a second wide receiver, Arland Bruce IV, who had committed to Iowa.
He then had … well, let’s let him tell it.
“You know, your brownie’s warmed up,” Nelson said this week, laughing at the thought. “It’s warm and it’s going to taste good. And then all of the sudden here comes a big glob of ice cream. And it makes it a lot better.”
Now, Nelson didn’t get the full taste of that brownie before the middle of the season, but once he did, Ankeny went on a run that led to the Iowa Class 4A state championship.
Bruce and Brecht were among the 17 signees to Iowa’s 2021 recruiting class on Wednesday.
“It’s a dream come true,” Brecht said. “’I’ve been a Hawkeye fan ever since I could walk. I’ve been watching them play all my life. Now it’s finally a reality.”
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” Bruce said. “I’ve been working for this.”
In an unpredictable season, the two players finished with a state championship.
“It was truly amazing,” Brecht said. “Our class is really tight. To have it come together and win a state title, it’s truly a blessing.”
“I love everyone in Ankeny,” Bruce said. “They brought me in, and from day one have been so kind to me. To see the joy in everyone after bringing the state championship back, it was awesome.
Bruce was planning on playing his senior season at Olathe North (Kan.) High School, but when it looked like his school wasn’t going to be play football this fall, he remembered the message Brecht had sent out to the Iowa commits’ group chat.
“He told everybody Iowa was going to be playing,” Bruce said.
So Bruce and his mother, Linda, moved to Ankeny.
Nelson saw right away what Bruce could do.
“There was no question,” Nelson said. “It took all of us about 30 seconds to figure it out. He made this cut, and *whoosh*, he’s gone. It’s like OK, we see why he was going to Iowa.”
Bruce had done everything at Olathe North. He rushed for 2,479 yards and 43 touchdowns, while throwing for 404 yards and five touchdowns.
That versatility gave Nelson options.
“Sometimes we would play Arland at receiver, sometimes we would play him at the wing, sometimes at running back,” Nelson said.
But Bruce would miss the first five weeks of the season after being declared ineligible by the IHSAA.
Bruce was still able to practice with his new team as he appealed his eligibility.
“I think it speaks to Arland, the type of kid he is, to stay humble about it,” said Tyler Barnes, Iowa’s director of recruiting. “For him to stay with it, stay engaged with that team, be a scout-team guy, kind of wait patiently … for him to stick with it, and then we had the chance to play, to help that team win a state title, that’s impressive.”
Once Bruce got his eligibility through the appeal process, he made an immediate impact.
“Last year, a lot of teams would double Brody,” Wilson said. “Once Arland got to play in that last five games, it was a lot harder for them to do that.”
Bruce rushed for 660 yards and eight touchdowns and had 30 catches for 451 yards and five touchdowns. His interception in overtime clinched Ankeny’s 31-24 win over West Des Moines Dowling, and a week later the Hawks won the state championship.
“It’s been a roller-coaster of emotions,” Bruce said. “My teammates have been rallying behind me the whole time. That was just the best feeling (winning the title). Sweet revenge for not being able to play.”
“If you told me, when we committed, that we would play together before we got to Iowa, I would have said you were crazy,” Brecht said. “I was blessed to be able to play with him.”
The two are different types of players. Bruce is 5-foot-10 and weights 195 pounds. Brecht is 6-4, 205.
Brecht holds Ankeny’s records for career receptions (124), receiving yards (2,269) and touchdown receptions (29). He had 42 catches for 599 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
“There’s a lot of big kids in Iowa, but they don’t run like him,” Nelson said. “His ball skills are exceptional. He can track a ball well. He can really focus in on a football and make great catches.
“He understands coverages now, maybe not to the extent that he will when he gets to the Big Ten. I think for high school he has a grasp of what secondaries are doing.”
“I’ve worked on my releases a lot, getting in and out of my breaks, getting sharper on my routes,” Brecht said. “Me being a tall guy, corners are going to try to get under me, jam me coming off the line. I’ve got this speed, but I need to work on my cutting. I need to get quicker on my side-to-side.
“One of the biggest reasons I picked (Iowa) was player development. I’m just really excited for that.”
“Six-foot-4, 205-pound skill guys don’t grow on trees in the state of Iowa, right in your back yard,” Barnes said. “We knew about Brody for a while. He’s a big kid who can run.”
Bruce is going to enroll at Iowa for the spring semester.
“It’s definitely going to be difficult at first,” Bruce said. “But I am willing to accept the challenge.
“My weight is up there. I just need to add to my frame. Bulk up, but stay lean. If I can do that, and get on the playbook early, I think I can contribute next season.”
“He’s just lightning in a bottle,” Barnes said. “He’s dynamic. He’s a Swiss Army knife — he can play in the backfield, he can play in the slot, return punts, kicks, play defense.”
Brecht, who is planning on playing baseball as well at Iowa, wants one more summer season with Ankeny’s baseball team, which lost in the 4A state championship game last season.
“I’ve got some unfinished business on the baseball diamond,” Brecht said.
The two join Keagan Johnson, from Bellevue (Neb.) West High School, as receivers in Iowa’s class.
Nelson knew what he had all season. And he knows what’s ahead.
“I think any time you can play Division I, I think you’re a very fortunate young person,” Nelson said. “And you have the talent to do that. These guys have the talent.”