Football Freshman Spotlight: Spencer Petras

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Some recruits are wowed by facilities. Others by tradition or immediate playing time.
For University of Iowa freshman quarterback Spencer Petras, the clincher to becoming a Hawkeye could have been an emailed video clip from the 1985 Sesame Street movie, Follow That Bird.
Petras and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz share similar tastes in music. Once Ferentz discovered that Petras was fond of country music legend Waylon Jennings, he pointed the recruit toward a scene in a children’s movie that included Jennings driving a truck full of turkeys.
“Waylon Jennings and Big Bird in a truck, going down a road. Pretty funny,” said Petras, who is from San Rafael, California.
Petras and his buddies back home grew up listening to outlaw country music, favoring Jennings, Hank Williams, Jr., Willie Nelson, and the Highwaymen.
“I was impressed he knew who Waylon Jennings was,” Ferentz said.
Impressed because Petras is 18-years-old? Impressed because he is from California?
“People have a different idea — at least where I live — of what California is like in my opinion,” Petras said. “It’s not hippie and all that, like a lot of people think. Maybe (coach) expected (my favorite musician to be) Snoop Dogg or some rapper, I don’t know.”
San Rafael is located in the North Bay Region of the San Francisco Bay area. It is about as far from southern California as you can get, both by miles or stereotype.
As Big Ten Conference athletic programs know, there are perception hurdles associated with recruiting to the Midwest as well. Petras was hooked once he visited Iowa City, Iowa, which is nestled comfortably between Idaho and Ohio.
“The football culture here is unmatched from anything I saw anywhere in the country,” Petras said. “That is something any football player looks for — that strong culture and we definitely have it here.”
Petras knows about football culture. His high school, Marin Catholic, churns out double-digit season win totals as well as Division I quarterbacks. Four of the five varsity quarterbacks under head coach Mazi Moayed have gone on to play at Power 5 conferences, including California’s Jared Goff, who is currently third this season in the NFL in passing yards. The others are Petras, Morgan Mahalak (Oregon before transferring to Towson), and Chris Tewhill (Oregon).   
“There is a strong tradition there, mainly because of my head coach,” Petras said. “He is outstanding at what he does, demands a lot out of his program, and it shows. We have had a lot of success there and I was blessed to be able to go there and play for him.”
In two seasons with Petras as starting quarterback, Marin Catholic won 23 of 27 games. While Goff was the No. 1 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, he sits below Petras in the high school record book. Petras holds Marin records with 502 passing yards in a game, 4,157 passing yards in a season, five touchdown passes in a game, and 50 touchdown passes in a season.
Petras enrolled at Iowa in January, 2018, giving him an early opportunity to study the Hawkeyes’ playbook and take reps in spring practice.
“I had a great time, so it paid off and I’m happy I did it,” Petras said.
Ken O’Keefe, Iowa’s quarterbacks coach, discovered Petras while he was recruiting the states of California, Texas, and Utah.
“Spencer is the guy who rose up; he is a tremendous player,” Ferentz said. “He has good height and range, has big hands, and throws the ball well. His upside is intriguing; he is a cerebral guy, studies it, works it hard, and thinks about football an awful lot.”
Ferentz sees similarities between the 6-foot-5, 227-pound Petras and other Hawkeye quarterback greats, notably C.J. Beathard and Chuck Long.
“Most have come in a little under-developed physically,” Ferentz said. “They grow into being good players and I think Spencer has that kind of growth potential. He has the mind of a quarterback and that’s what we’re impressed with.”
During a 23-0 victory over Maryland on Oct. 20, Petras entered the game for two plays. He handed off to Mekhi Sargent for a three-yard gain, then threw incomplete to Kyle Groeneweg.
“I was a little nervous right before, but getting out there, it’s just football,” Petras said. “It was cool to be in front of the home crowd — I hope to do it again soon.”