Iowa Football Adding Impressive ’23 Walk-On Group
Hawkeyes Sway Some Prep Recruits from Scholarship Offers
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa Football has earned a good reputation for developing walk-ons from high school into starters. Some of those guys have become all-conference performers. Others have reached the NFL.
Still, it can be difficult choosing that path when you hold scholarship offers from other programs. There’s a lot to be said for having your college expenses covered.
The Hawkeyes convinced multiple guys in its 10-player, 2023 walk-on class to take on chance on them and themselves. It made for a strong group joining the team.
“I’ve always wanted to play at Iowa. So when the opportunity presented itself, it was hard to turn down,” said Cedar Rapids Xavier defensive back Aidan McDermott, who was verbally committed to a scholarship offer at FCS champion South Dakota State before flipping to Iowa.
“It’s always been the dream to play in Kinnick (Stadium). Obviously the scholarship offers were hard to turn down, though. It took a lot of thought before deciding.”
Northern Iowa also offered McDermott (6-2, 195) a scholarship. He helped the Saints win the Class 4A State Championship in the Fall with five interceptions on defense and 15 total touchdowns on offense.
It should be noted that walk-ons at Iowa receive NIL money, making the move more economically attractive than ever before. Still, plenty monetary obligations for college remain to be paid by the student-athletes and their families.
Another Cedar Rapids defensive back turned down reported scholarship offers from Army, Nebraska and South Dakota to walk on at Iowa. Washington High’s Watts McBride enrolled in college last month and will go through spring drills with the Hawkeyes.
“I’ve grown up an Iowa fan and always knew Iowa City would be home for me,” McBride said. “They have a great history of walk-ons and they develop DBs really well.”
Former Xavier standout Quinn Schulte walked on at Iowa and won the starting free safety job last season as a junior. He joined a list of D-Backs who’ve followed that same path, including Sean Considine and Derek Pagel, who were drafted into the NFL.
Iowa tells walk-on prospects they’ll start at the same point in the program as do scholarship players. By all accounts, it follows through on that promise.
“I don’t approach being a walk-on any different than if I was a scholarship player,” McBride said. “Regardless, you have to come here and work really hard and earn anything you’re going to get.”
McBride (6-0, 185) totaled 55.0 tackles (45 solo, 6.5 for loss) and added 12 touchdowns on offense in ’22.
West Des Moines Dowling Catholic tight end Jalyn Thompson (6-4, 235) caught 22 passes for 305 yards as a senior, showing strong blocking skills as well. The son of former Iowa basketball player, Rod Thompson, verbally committed to Northern Illinois for a scholarship during the Fall before flipping to the Hawkeyes in December.
“I felt the benefits outweighed the costs at Iowa,” Thompson said. “Sure, I wouldn’t be having a scholarship that I would other places, but I’m given the opportunity of a lifetime to play at a school that is known for building their preferred walk-ons.”
Iowa added a pair of walk-on receivers during the current cycle. Shawnee Mission East High’s C.J. Leonard (6-3, 185) and Luke Pollack (6-4, 200) from Deerfield (IL) High likely saw opportunity at a position of need.
Leonard caught 40 balls for 607 yards and seven touchdowns ’22. He chose the Hawkeyes ahead of a walk-on invitation from home-state Kansas State.
“I always wanted to play for a big school and playing at Iowa was a dream to me. I hope to learn from the older guys and guys who’ve played and try to model what a good player does on and off the field,” he said.
Pollack posted 800 all-purpose yards and eight scores during the Fall. He reported interest from Butler, Drake, Montana, Northern Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State.
“I chose my opportunity at Iowa because I know they give amazing chances for walk-ons. Once I visited Iowa and met the coaches, it was so welcoming and felt like home immediately,” he said.
The Hawkeyes are bringing in one of the most prolific running backs in recent state history. Durant’s Nolan DeLong (6-1, 210) arrives as a linebacker after rushing for 2,111 yards and 21 touchdowns with 14.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks on defense as a senior.
Northern Iowa and South Dakota reportedly offered DeLong scholarships. Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska and Wisconsin were among the schools showing him interest.
“I’ve talked to many buddies who have gone or are going through (Iowa), and they have nothing but amazing things to say. We get the same training, nutrition and opportunity (as scholarship players),” he said.
“I’m going to use it as motivation, a chip on the shoulder because I know that I’m worthy enough of an offer, and I will show that to them when I get there.”
Iowa scooped up a couple of in-state, walk-on linemen, one on each side of the ball. Waukee Northwest’s Cael Winter pledged to the offensive front with Ryan Kuennen of West Des Moines Valley jumping in on defense.
Winter (6-3, 250) reported offers from Pittsburgh State, Grand View, Morningside, Peru State, Black Hills State and Winona State. Kuennen (6-3, 245) visited Iowa State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota State.
“I ended up deciding to take the walk-on from Iowa over others because of the consistency within the program. Me growing up an Iowa fan, I’ve seen it year in and year out. I just have to have the mindset going in wanting to prove something to everyone and earn my spot,” Kuennen said.
Linebacker Jack Laughlin helped Carlisle (IA) High reach the Class 4A State Semifinals in ’22 with 55.5 tackles (42 solo, 7.5 for loss) on defense and rushing for 8.3 yards per carry and 24 touchdowns. He announced on Jan. 19 that he’d be walking on at Iowa.
Last, but certainly not least, the Hawkeyes are bringing in a quarterback with a familiar last name. Evergreen (CO) High signal caller Tommy Poholsky is the son of former Iowa quarterback Tom Poholsky, who passed away in ’21 at the age of 54.
HF’s Pat Harty wrote about Tommy Poholsky walking on to the program where his late father performed.
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