Henry Geil is aware. His generation might say he’s woke.
He diggs below the surface of appearances. He connects with people who walk different paths.
The talented running back is one of the lynchpins in Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class, bringing together a group of players from diverse backgrounds. It came natural because that’s how he lives his life.
Geil is active beyond football at Green Bay Preble High. He’s a member of Key Club, a student-led organization focused on building leadership through service to others in the school and community, and Link Crew, which is a program that links junior and senior leaders to freshmen to help make the transition into high school easier.
In addition, he’s part of the academic decathlon, forensics club (poetry, prose), a cancer awareness group and a diversity leadership group.
“I’m immersed in the culture of my school,” the 17-year old said. “I try to give back to the community. Being elevated to a certain extent gives me an opportunity to say things others might be too afraid to say. I try to take advantage of my voice.”
During his sophomore year, Geil witnessed one student pushing another into locker. He knew both of them. They didn’t know that. He tried to identify with each side, attempting to understand the dynamic and why it happened.
Geil also tries to foster better relationships between students and teachers. Sometimes the problem can be pupils not listening but other times the educators miss the communication. There’s work in closing generational gaps.
By virtue of his athletic prowess, rushing for 147.9 yards a game and 17 touchdowns in ’17, Geil is part of the “in” crowd. He’s not comfortable being contained to it, however.
“Diversity in my life is so important because that’s who I am. You see people in life who can’t associate with other people and maybe can only associate with one certain type of person. That’s sad,” he said.
Geil breaks down stereotypes. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, a black man in a city that’s almost 78 percent white and only 3.5 percent African-American, he draws attention.
“I’m not a mean person but looking at me physically, I can be a little intimidating. Talking with people from all different walks of life helps me show people that what you might see isn’t always going to be the reality,” he said.
Geil feels fortunate being in his position. He understands others aren’t so lucky. All the more reason to be proactive in life.
Mary Schils and LeRoy Geil worked out his adoption before he was born in Plantation, Fl. He came into the world prematurely, fitting in the palm of his grandfather’s hand. Once he was strong enough, he came to Green Bay, where he’s lived ever since.
“I didn’t feel any type of strain because of the way I was brought up. I’m very blessed to be able to say that. I’ve been able to see things from a very fortunate point of view but I’ve also taken a step back and realized what’s real and what’s not so real because of the situation I’ve been in,” he said.
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Geil learned he was adopted as soon as he was old enough to understand. His younger brother was adopted from Miami a year after he arrived. He has never met his birth parents but knows who they are and an existence of a sister.
He’s at peace with his life. He loves his adoptive parents and understands his good fortune. Still, there’s a piece of him that wonders.
“Sometimes I think about what she’s thinking but I can always reconcile and find strength in my family here. I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything, that’s the main thing,” he said.
Growing up in one of the most football crazed places on earth, Geil was introduced to the sport at a young age. His grandfather had Green Bay Packers tickets from the time Lambeau Field opened in 1957.
After playing receiver as a sophomore, Geil emerged as a running back in the fall of ’16. The colleges came calling. Iowa and Iowa State offered him scholarships early in ’17. Michigan State, Syracuse, Indiana and others also jumped in.
Geil checked out campuses last winter and spring. He decided on Iowa during April and never looked back.
Jeff Jenkins and Dillon Doyle, Iowa’s first two pledges in the class, befriended Geil during his decision-making process. They didn’t pressure him, however.
“They gave me the spiel about why I should commit and then moved on and we became friends,” Geil said.
That’s how the ’18 group came together, each guy making the best decision for him. It carried all the way through an early December official visit weekend with verbal commitments mingling with targets. They included Calvin Lockett, Dallas Craddieth and Spencer Petras, who ended up signing with the Hawkeyes during the early period.
While Geil appreciates coaches wanting the committed guys’ help in recruiting, it can be overdone. When he looked at the official visit schedule of events for everyone, he noticed that he would be better served lessening the intensity.
“It was just packed with things for us to do. Nowhere on the itinerary did it say just be a kid. You need to find time to chill and connected with people. Ultimately, that helps. It feels like a family at Iowa because we take time to get to know each other. That’s not just a Midwest thing, that’s an Iowa thing,” he said.
Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle played a big role in Geil’s commitment. Ultimately, he chose the Hawkeyes ahead of Michigan State, where one of his idols, Leveon Bell, played.
The Spartans bulked up Bell for their power running game. When he cut weight for the NFL, he became more productive.
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“(Doyle) said I was probably going to play at between 220-230 but as soon as we see you don’t move well with it, we’re stopping. They care about you,” Geil said.
Geil will arrive in June with Iowa having graduated its top two rushers. Sophomores Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young return after seeing limited action in ’17. Toks Akinribade played in ’16 before red shirting last year. A December medical procedure puts his future up in the air. Kyshaun Bryan comes back after red shirting in the fall.
“I’m hoping to get into the rotation early, but that’s going to come with a lot of hard work,” Geil said.
He’ll prepare this winter and spring with former Nebraska and Packers running back Ahman Green, who owns D1 Sports Training in Green Bay. He’s hoping to pick up tips from the former all-pro while getting in top condition.
Geil is a well-rounded back. Playing receiver as a sophomore shows he can be a threat in routes out of the backfield. He’s got experience returning punts and kicks, and takes blocking seriously.
“Most guys head into college with the goal of going pro. That’s not me. If the opportunity presents itself, you better believe I’m trying to go. But I’m looking to build relationships, set up my future and win some games, hopefully play for Big Ten title,” he said.
Geil will major in Business Enterprise. He’ll try to get involved in clubs and the community as time allows. He’s focused on experiencing as much as he can at Iowa and knows the football coaching staff is on board.
“I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but I’ve been to schools where academics are not the biggest priority. I’ve asked coaches where the library is and they don’t know,” he said.
When he was on his official visit, he noticed veteran players stressing about upcoming finals. Instead of worrying about the difficulty in balancing athletics and academics, Geil found it refreshing.
“It’s great to see guys that are in the position you’ll be in soon caring about school and making it a priority,” he said. “I know I found the right place for me.”