Last summer, Algona’s Wyatt Wegener and West Hancock’s Josef Smith were classmates in a life-guarding class. Later this year, they might be appearing together on a far bigger stage.
Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
Both Wegener and Smith will go into the 2020 football season as preferred walk-ons for the Iowa Hawkeyes football team, which means that they are guaranteed a spot on the team, but they won’t receive scholarships right away. They still both have a chance to win scholarships, but will have to do so by impressing the coaching staff on the field.
Smith, who was a member of the 2019 West Hancock Class A state championship squad, will go into training camp as a linebacker. At 6-foot-5 and over 200 pounds, it’s easy to see why Smith is an appealing prospect.
Iowa defensive recruiting coordinator Jay Niemann said that the program first noticed Smith at the 2019 track state championships, where he won a state long jump championship.
“He has good movement skills, overall athleticism and a rangy frame. Speed and length are always positives in recruiting,” Niemann said. “We are planning to start him off on defense, but he is versatile enough that if he can contribute sooner and help the team on offense, we would consider that option also.”
Smith’s senior year at West Hancock was cut short due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, but he has been training every day from the workout packets he received from the Hawkeye coaching staff. Though Smith was already in pretty good shape, the new workouts have been grueling.
“They are really tough at the start,” Smith said. “The reps are really high. It gets to the point on the chest day where my arms just feel like jello. I push through them and it hasn’t gotten easier by any means, but I’m more prepared for it.”
Just over 20 miles up Highway 18 from Smith, Wegener has also been doing his best to get ready for his own move to Iowa City. Now, nearly three months since his most recent sporting event, Algona's 73-71 loss to Ballard in the basketball substate semifinals, Wegener is eager to get back on the field. Since the disappointment of the track season being canceled, he is glad to have something to distract him.
“I’m excited to get out with the new teammates, and play sports again,” Wegener said. “Me and my friend Samonte (Bawden), we had big goals for this year for track. With football coming up soon, it gives me something to look forward to, and work towards.”
Like Smith, Wegener is not guaranteed a scholarship, but with an ability to dominate at several different positions, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that one is in his future.
Going into the season, Wegener will first get looks as a wide-out, with the chance of trying out as a running back, a safety, or a linebacker. Wegener is fine with any of those, just so long as he gets a chance to play.
“My goal is to be the best football player I can be, at whatever position that may be,” Wegener said. “Iowa will figure that out.”
While they don’t know each other super well, Smith and Wegener have been impressed by what the other has accomplished on the field.
This past season, Smith finished with 1,270 yards on the ground with 18 touchdowns for West Hancock, along with a team-high 11 receptions and 202 receiving yards. On defense, he had 27.5 tackles on the season.
Wegener was the Bulldogs' top receiver and rusher, finishing with 1,422 rushing yards and 708 yards through the air. Both were named to the Globe Gazette’s 2019 All-Area Football Team.
“I’ve heard a lot about him,” Wegener said of Smith. “I’ve seen him play, and he is a big physical, strong kid. He’s a really good athlete, how I see it.”
Smith speaks in similar terms about Wegener, complimenting the 6-foot-2 inch bruiser’s speed and explosive style of play.
“He had a really good development sophomore to junior year, and I was pretty impressed by that,” Smith said. “He’s got speed and really good balance. I watched his highlight videos and they were fun to watch. He’s pretty exciting.”
Both players are accomplished athletes, but will go in with plenty to prove this fall if they want to see minutes at the Division I level.
"It seemed like there are a lot of people there that are just like me,” Smith said of the Iowa program, “They build them up, and actually train and develop all these guys. That is what appealed to me the most. I always have been looking for someone who really knows what they are talking about who can develop me, and that feels like what they offer.”
Shane Lantz covers sports for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at Shane.Lantz@GlobeGazette.com or by phone at 641-421-0526. Follow Shane on Twitter at @ShaneMLantz.
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