By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Henry Geil is an honest, trusty-worthy person, but ask him about Saturday’s Wisconsin-Iowa football game inside Kinnick Stadium and he will tell you a little fib.
Geil is a true freshman running back from Green Bay, Wisconsin, who chose the University of Iowa over Michigan State, Indiana, Syracuse, Bowling Green, and Iowa State. He is one of 12 Hawkeyes from the state of Wisconsin.
So, Henry, does this week feel bigger in any way for you guys?
“We’ll say no, but it is,” Geil said. “(Quarterback) Nate (Stanley) is from Wisconsin, I’m from Wisconsin, (running back) Toren (Young), (linebacker) Kristian Welch, and many others. I guess it’s the same feeling as somebody from Iowa playing Iowa State. It’s just another game for us, but it would be sweet to beat our home state.”
At 6-foot-1, 215-pounds, Geil is one of the bigger Hawkeye running backs. He has contributed 37 rushing yards on 15 carries this season, becoming the first Iowa true freshman running back to carry the ball in a game since LeShun Daniels, Jr., five seasons ago.
“My goal was to play as a freshman, whether it be in a minimum role on special teams or being part of the offense,” Geil said. “I accomplished that, now the goals have changed; I’m trying to get better every day and that is something I focus on.”
At Preble High School, Geil once rushed for 273 yards in a game and scored 30 points in another. His 2,263 career rushing yards are second-most in school history.
“We liked what we saw of him as a high school running back and then we got to know Henry and his family,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We were impressed with him, he’s a tremendous young guy.”
It didn’t take long for Geil to see action as a Hawkeye. In the season opener against Northern Illinois, he carried the ball five times for 13 yards. Last week he had 10 carries for 24 yards against Northern Iowa.
Geil says the physicality and tempo are the biggest differences between high school and Division I football. Ferentz is impressed with Geil’s progress.
“Like most guys out of high school, he has to learn is to run a little more decisively,” Ferentz said. “If there is a crack, you have to hit it. That is part of the process, but I think he has improved, has a great attitude, and we think he has a good future.”
Since sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin missed two games with an ankle injury, Geil has been the third Hawkeye running back behind sophomores Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent. Geil has known Young, who played at Monona Grove High School just outside of Madison.
“It’s great to have somebody you know who has your back and is trying to help you get better,” Geil said. “You still have that competition aspect between all the backs in the room, but it’s a family and that is the biggest thing I was looking forward to: getting immersed in that culture and trying to find my way.”
Geil was one of the more involved students at Preble. He participated in acting, public speaking, Academic Decathlon, leadership group, and was president of the Diversity Leadership Club. At Iowa, he hasn’t had time to become involved in organizations outside school and sports…yet.
“Having a platform coming out of high school, being a recruited athlete, you have a chance to speak for people that don’t have a chance to get their voices heard,” Geil said. “I figured I should take advantage of that to the best of my abilities. I had fun with it too, so it was the best of both worlds.”
The primary sport for Geil from a 12-year span from the ages of 5-17 was baseball. He was proficient enough to certainly be able to play the game well after high school. But following his junior year, he realized football was “my future.”
That doesn’t mean Geil will refrain from scoreboard-watching the final two weeks of the Major League regular season. He still has allegiance to one team in the state of Wisconsin.
“I’m a Brewers fan,” he said. “We’re coming for the NL Central crown.”