April 23, 2016
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — One of the feel-good stories this spring for University of Iowa football is Jay Scheel, who for once in his career feels good.
Scheel is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound wide receiver from Mount Auburn, Iowa, and Union High School in LaPorte City. His next collegiate reception will be his first, but if he progresses in fall camp like he did this spring, odds are good for that catch to come Sept. 3 in the season opener against Miami (Ohio).
As a high school sophomore, Scheel led Union to a 21-14 victory in the Class 3A state championship over Josey Jewell and Decorah by completing 6-of-13 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown and rushing 13 times for 55 yards. In his prep career, Scheel completed 57.6 percent of his pass attempts for 4,577 yards and 49 touchdowns and rushed for 2,332 yards and 31 touchdowns.
But his body paid a price. Prior to enrolling at Iowa, Scheel had two surgeries on both knees to clean “wear and tear stuff.”
“Jay is a humble kid and extremely coachable,” said Joe Hadachek, his high school football coach. “He is a quiet leader who leads by example. I don’t remember him missing any workouts and he did whatever we asked of him.”
Recruited as an athlete, Scheel immediately found a home with the Hawkeye receivers, but practice or playing time didn’t come quickly.
Scheel redshirted in 2014 and after spring drills in 2015 was listed No. 2 at wide receiver. But game repetitions were almost nonexistent.
“It would be tough for anyone who is not playing,” Scheel said. “Everyone wants to play, but all you can do is keep working and pushing and hope to get time on the field.”
If now isn’t the time for Scheel, it is getting close. He entered spring practice March 23 as second-team split end behind sophomore Jerminic Smith and appears to have improved his lot during 15 practices that concluded Saturday with a public scrimmage inside Kinnick Stadium.
“It would be tough for anyone who is not playing. Everyone wants to play, but all you can do is keep working and pushing and hope to get time on the field.”
UI wide receiver
“Jay Scheel has really taken a jump over the last few practices and has gotten himself into the mix where he can play a couple positions,” UI offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “I think he is healthy for the first time and he’s playing with confidence.”
And Hawkeye quarterbacks have more confidence throwing to a more confident Scheel. When senior C.J. Beathard talked about the passing game before spring drills began, one of the first names out of his mouth was Scheel. Sophomore Tyler Wiegers added a glowing review after Practice 13 on April 20.
“Jay is doing a good job being where he is supposed to be every play. He is playing fast and isn’t hesitating with anything,” Wiegers said. “He gives the quarterbacks a good spot to get the ball to. When we send it his way, he has been making tough catches and giving C.J. and I a lot of confidence in him.
“I have always thought he was a good player, so any time we get a one-on-one matchup, he’s a guy you can count on to get open and you can go that way.”
Despite a lack of playing time, Scheel has exceeded where he was physically and athletically in high school. Thanks to Iowa’s strength and conditioning crew, Scheel said he is bigger, faster, and stronger than before.
“I have made a lot of progress, but it isn’t just me,” Scheel said.
Helping expedite his progress is a daily adversary across the line of scrimmage. Scheel has the challenge — and luxury — of frequent battles against cornerback Desmond King, who won the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top collegiate defensive back.
“Desmond King is really good technically and fundamentally. Going against him has forced me to try to be the best I can be on every play,” Scheel said. “All I can do is try to beat the man on the other side of the ball and that’s what I do every snap.”
There are also plenty of positive role models among his position group. Senior Matt VandeBerg led the Hawkeyes with 65 receptions last season; also returning are Smith (six receptions) and senior Riley McCarron (five receptions, including a 25-yard game-winning touchdown at Iowa State).