Why star recruit Kaleb Brown left Ohio State to take a chance on Iowa

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During his official visit to Iowa earlier this month, former four-star Kaleb Brown dined with a player from the opposite side of what many describe as college football’s fiercest rivalry.

On one side of the table sat Brown, a recent entrant onto the transfer portal after his freshman season at Ohio State. On the other side sat Cade McNamara, a quarterback who, in 2021, led Michigan to its first Big Ten Championship in 17 years after guiding the Wolverines to an upset over the Buckeyes on a snowy field in Ann Arbor.

By the time the disbelieving crowd was spilling over the railings to flood the Michigan Stadium turf, Brown was three weeks away from signing his National Letter of Intent to play at Ohio State, the blood blue that works as an assembly line for NFL-caliber receivers. under the tutelage of Brian Hartline. Counting Brown, four of the top 26 wide receivers in the 2022 recruiting cycle, joined the Buckeyes with a shared goal, among others, of knocking off the Wolverines.

But 17 months and 24 moments later, Brown was on the campus of another Big Ten rival, courted by an old foe. The pitcher, McNamara, had lost his job with backup JJ McCarthy, then joined the Hawkeyes after a brief stint on the transfer window last November. Now he wanted Brown to be his No. 1 target in Iowa City.

“It’s a special thing for us to come together,” Brown said in an interview with FOX Sports. “It’s kind of crazy. It’s a real coincidence. It was something we laughed about at dinner when we went out, and it’s a great thing. I think we’re going to make a good duo together, you know what I mean?”

Brown (5-foot-10, 197 pounds) committed a few days later in a move that both sides hope will be remembered as one of the most shocking transfers of this year’s tailgate party. Only four times since 247Sports began tracking recruiting data in 1999, the same year head coach Kirk Ferentz took over at Iowa, have the Hawkeyes signed a four-star wide receiver out of the ‘secondary school. And while Brown arrives in Iowa City via the transfer portal, his ranking as the No. 79 overall prospect and No. 13 wide receiver in the ’22 recruiting class makes him the most decorated in program history ahead of Keenan Davis in 2009 (No. 117 overall; No. 15 WR), Trey Stross in 2005 (No. 147 overall; No. 14 WR) and both Arland Bruce IV (No. 324 overall; No. 21 ATH) as Keagan Johnson (#354 overall; no. 23 ATH) in 2021.

The addition of Brown has fueled Iowa’s attempt at an offensive overhaul that Ferentz believes can — and should — steer the program away from last year’s ineptitude on that side of the ball. Under coordinator Brian Ferentz, whose precarious position as the head coach’s son continues to invite scrutiny, the Hawkeyes ranked 130th out of 131 FBS teams in total offense with 251.6 yards per party Quarterback Spencer Petras threw as many interceptions as touchdowns (five), and outside linebacker Nico Ragaini was the only player at his position to eclipse 19 receptions and 187 yards. That impotence led athletic director Gary Barta to rework Brian Ferentz’s contract to include “designated performance goals” through 2023, headlined by mandates to average 25 points per game and achieve at least seven wins.

You’ll have some new pieces to work with. McNamara joined ex-Michigan standout Erick All (38 catches for 437 yards in 2021) as notable early additions through the transfer window. The Hawkeyes’ secondary class includes noted sprinter Alex Mota, a three-star wideout with additional scholarship offers from Kansas State, Nebraska and Wisconsin, among others, who could pair up nicely with Brown. Iowa also returns its two leading rushers from 2022 in tailbacks Kaleb Johnson (779 yards, six TDs) and Leshon Williams (413 yards, two TDs).

“You can only do so much with certain players that they had last year,” Brown said. “Now that the talent has come in and things are changing, I think we can open up the playbook a little bit more and give the coaches some things to think about, you know what I mean? And I think that’s what it’s all about. A lot things we can bring to the table. Just watching Cade’s highlights at Michigan and what I can bring to the table, just taking the top off the defense and handling them at safety.”

Both athletic and versatile, Brown should provide the Hawkeyes with the kind of explosiveness their wide receivers have lacked for long stretches of Ferentz’s tenure — a 24-year streak in which none of Iowa’s four draft picks in this position she was selected in the first four. rounds Brown’s time of 10.84 seconds in the 100-meter dash as a freshman at St. Chicago’s Rita would have placed 17th at the Big Ten Track and Field Championships that same year. As a sophomore in 2020, his indoor time of 7.01 seconds in the 60-meter dash would have tied for 21st at the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships.

A high school career primarily at running back increased Brown’s learning curve in college, where he became one of 13 four- or five-star receivers to join the Buckeyes in the first five years since that Hartline took over the position group in 2018. Brown caught one pass for five yards in very limited playing time, while the entire crop of 22 receivers: Brown, Caleb Burton (No. 70 overall; No. . 10 WR), Kyion Grayes (No. 88 overall; No. 14 WR) and Kojo Antwi (No. 151 overall; No. 26 WR): Combined to log fewer than 70 snaps from the snap behind established veterans Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson, all of whom will return this fall.

Four other top wide receivers signed with Ohio State in the ’23 recruiting cycle: Brandon Inniss (No. 35 overall; No. 5 WR), Noah Rogers (No. 52 overall; No. 8 WR) , Carnell Tate (No. 59 overall; No. 9 WR) and Bryson Rodgers (No. 355 overall; No. 49 WR). With three of those players enrolled early, head coach Ryan Day described the next few months as “a really, really big spring” for rising sophomores like Brown when asked about the second-year extensions at a press conference in early March. Eight weeks later, Brown and Burton would enter the transfer window, with the former committed to Iowa and the latter to Auburn.

“I’m really looking forward to showing my talent and showing what I’m capable of, you know what I mean?” Brown said. “That was definitely a big thing for me. I’m always ready to compete, even at Ohio State. But it was kind of a coin toss to see if, you know, how long it would take in the countryside.

“I feel like I’ve developed and learned a lot because I wasn’t a receiver at all (when I got to Ohio State). Just going from running back to receiver, you know what I mean, it was a lot. of different things, of football, that I had to learn. Whether it was coverage, whether it was leverage, all of that. I had an idea of ​​just playing 7-on-7, but they really molded me and shaped me into a better receiver. It definitely needed this freshman year, 100 percent sure. And I think I can translate that and take that to Iowa.”

While Brown is open to playing any role the Hawkeyes’ coaching staff envisions, he’s especially excited about becoming a deep threat for McNamara, whose production as Michigan’s starter eclipsed what Petras brought behind a leaky, hitting offensive line. until the receiving body last year.

Fewer than 9 percent of Petras’ passes traveled at least 20 yards downfield in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus, and he completed just nine of those 24 attempts for 281 yards, a touchdown and a passing score of 96 NFL. McNamara, meanwhile, threw 14.5 percent of his throws at least 20 yards last year in 2021, completing 19 of 48 attempts for 715 yards, five touchdowns and a passing score of NFL of 121.9, his highest mark of any of PFF’s four yardage ranges. That McNamara still drew criticism for being too conservative that season sheds some light on how archaic Iowa’s offense was in 2022.

“Quarterback stability,” Brown said. “Cade definitely checked the box for me, basically. You know what I mean? And the way I’m going to use myself on offense, pretty much. Those were all my boxes that needed to be checked.”

Ferentz and his staff hope McNamara and Brown can turn the program’s pattern of underachieving and underappreciated wideouts, especially after watching punt returner Charlie Jones transfer to Purdue and catch 110 passes for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2022. All Jones wanted was a bigger one. role inside the offense, something the Hawkeyes never offered, and the Boilermakers helped turn him into a fourth-round pick.

When Johnson (Kansas State) and Bruce (Oklahoma State) entered the transfer window in early December, shortly after the regular season ended, Ferentz said goodbye to exactly half of the four stars he has signed since who took over the Hawkeyes. The other four-star receivers who committed to Iowa out of high school, Davis and Stross, combined to catch 143 passes for 1,884 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight college seasons. Neither player was drafted.

“Definitely an area we’ll look at (on the transfer window) if we can help on the perimeter,” Ferentz said after his team’s final spring practice.

He landed Brown two weeks later.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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