Iowa Dug Deep to get Paschal

August 30, 2004 note: The following was written by Marc Morehouse and first appeared in Aug. 30, 2004 editions of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Three years ago, Marcus Paschal walked onto the University of Iowa campus a 165-pound weakling.

Three years ago, Paschal liked Hofstra better than Iowa.

Three years ago, Paschal’s dad wanted him to play quarterback at Hofstra. His mom wanted him to play receiver at Troy State.

Three years ago, Marcus Paschal was a nobody on the college football radar.

“Coach Norm (Parker) looked at me like he didn’t really know why Coach Phil (Parker) was recruiting me,” Paschal said. “I was so small.”

A lot has changed in three years.

Now, Paschal is the heir apparent to Bob Sanders at strong safety. He’s a full-grown 6-feet, 196 pounds. He’s primed for the big time, Big Ten.

“I just want to be an all-around kind of strong safety,” said Paschal, a sophomore from Largo, Fla. “I want to be the complete safety. That means covering, making tackles, deflecting passes, everything.”

“I just want to be an all-around kind of strong safety. I want to be the complete safety. That means covering, making tackles, deflecting passes, everything.”
UI Defensive Back Marcus Paschal

All the Hawkeyes have their own personal road maps on how they arrived in Iowa City.

Paschal’s is a glimpse into Iowa’s recruiting process and the coaching staff’s feel for players they recruit.

Paschal was an option quarterback at Largo High School. He rushed for nearly 1,000 yards, averaging 7.2 yards a carry, and passed for 1,724 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.

He didn’t play defense until his senior year. From safety, he made 61 tackles and had eight interceptions.

Even with those numbers, his recruiting remained in low gear.

Phil Parker, Iowa’s secondary coach and primary Florida recruiter, took the long road to Largo.

“Actually, I was recruiting another kid from another school down the road,” Park said.

Parker talked to a coach who referred him to Rich Rodriquez, Paschal’s coach at Largo. Rodriquez asked him to stop over, they might have a kid.

They handed off Paschal’s tape, and Parker said Iowa would give them a call.

“He looked very good on film and we decided to offer him a visit,” Parker said. “He almost didn’t come because his dad wanted him to go to Hofstra.”

Now, put yourself in Phil Parker’s shoes.

In 2001, the Hawkeyes were on their way to regaining credibility, coming off an Alamo Bowl victory. Parker was trying to make some inroads in Florida’s Gulf coast. He was on the lookout for players.

He finds Paschal and Hofstra is the main competitor?

“Some guys just don’t get the publicity. Maybe it’s because they played one year or maybe the school didn’t do so well,” Parker said. “Or maybe they’re not friends with somebody who knows somebody. If you can find a guy who fits what your needs are, then you recruit them.”

Head coach Kirk Ferentz signs off on every recruit, but the assistants do most of the finding.

At some point, Parker had to stand up for an unknown Floridian who, on his visit to Iowa, was in the throes of the flu, having lost some 20 pounds in three weeks.

“Coach Ferentz looks at the facts,” Parker said. “He wants to know what kind of kid the kid is. He’ll watch him on film, obviously. And if you believe in the kid, you’ve got to go out there and say, `I believe in the kid.'”

Another hurdle was selling Paschal on the idea that he could be a player at Iowa, the big-time, Big Ten school. He knew he could be a player at Hofstra, a Division I-AA school in the Atlantic 10 football conference.

“Coach Parker, when he came down, he made me feel really good because he told me that he was surprised non of the Florida schools were recruiting me,” Paschal said. “He told me he didn’t see why Florida, Florida State, or Miami wasn’t talking to me. That really made me think, maybe I’m selling myself short by going to a smaller program.”

Paschal’s parents, Anita and Anthony, made the trip with him to Hofstra, in Hempstead, N.Y. That was Marcus’ first trip on an airplane. It was cold, and he caught the flu.

He visited Troy (ala.) State the next week and couldn’t leave his hotel room.

He showed up in Iowa City a week later and 20 pounds lighter.

“Dad wanted me to go to Hofstra and play quarterback. Mom wanted me to go to Troy State and player receiver because it was closer to home,” Paschal said. “I came up and made the decision on my own. They left it up to me, but they had their preferences.”

He committed to Iowa that weekend.

Hofstra’s loss was Iowa’s gain. Paschal, on the cusp of a starting gig, appears to be a player.

He made an impression last season on special teams. He made six tackles and had two pass breakups. He also saw playing time at cornerback in certain defensive packages.

“He made some good hits on special teams and proved that he’s learning and working,” Parker said. “He’s got some athletic ability. He’s smart and determined. He’s got a passion for the game.”

Three years ago, Hofstra. Three years ago, Troy State. Three years ago, a nobody on the college football radar.

“It’s not a perfect science, it’s just a very educated guess in recruiting,” Parker said.

A lot has changed in three years.