LIKE IKE: 2013 grad looks to relish opportunity at Iowa

Ike Boettger sinks down into the drivers side seat of his 2003 black Lexus SUV, his high school ride, for one of the last times as he is waiting on the license plates to come in the mail for his new truck. The wind is sharp and the snow lightly falls as his eyes gaze upon the school where he was quite literally the big man on campus.

It was just three years ago when Boettger was a 6’5”, 215-pound junior quarterback leading his nationally ranked top 100 team along with James Harrington, the fastest high schooler in the history of Iowa, and Barkley Hill, the 2012 Gatorade Iowa High School Football Player of the Year.

Boettger (18) lines up under center as a quarterback during his junior year of high school

 

Times have changed since Boettger’s famous smile lit up the halls of Cedar Falls High School on a day to day basis, but the stories still float around almost as if he had never left.

Teachers can tell you exactly where he sat in their class and laugh as they speak of the girls in awe or the trouble makers that surrounded him yet never quite caught his attention. Attention, however, is exactly what he captured from others whether he wanted it or not. His presence was impossible to ignore as he towered over his fellow classmates and, along with the class of 2013, consistently uttered the signature saying “Sup, Boys” throughout the halls and streets of Cedar Falls.

Before ordering a full meal of a fillet mignon, noodles, rice, vegetables, a salad and a special Hawaiian sushi roll that isn’t even on the menu, Boettger slowly squeezes into a booth at a local Japanese steakhouse. The remarkable physical transformation he has gone through in just two years after high school is as obvious as the oozing potential he possesses on and off the football field. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at this now 6’6”, 290-pound man sporting a black University of Iowa strength and conditioning sweatshirt and camo baseball hat to realize he might be next in the line of NFL-caliber offensive tackles that the Hawkeyes have produced over the last decade.

He credits his high school coaches for helping him get this far, and the humbleness taught by his parents and upbringing quickly dismiss any heavy praise placed on his shoulders prematurely. “It’s a long way off,” Boettger said. “It’s every kids dream to play in the NFL. We’ll just see what happens. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

In the last 12 NFL drafts, there have been 12 offensive lineman alone taken from the University of Iowa. When next season begins, Boettger will be a redshirt sophomore, meaning he will have three years of remaining eligibility. In the depth chart released by head coach Kirk Ferentz following the season, the name next to the starting right tackle position reads a familiar name: Ike Boettger.

The path that led him to his promising current state wasn’t exactly a familiar one, however, unless you are very well versed in the player development of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

With his junior football season complete as a quarterback and limited interest from collegiate programs, the University of Iowa was in Cedar Falls meeting with offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher, who now plays for the University of Alabama. They decided to meet with Boettger also while they were there and invited him to attend their camp.

He went down to Iowa City as a quarterback and struggled early, “I was flustered that they even talked to me.” Boettger said. “I was just launching the ball way over kids’ heads.”

Not long after, he was asked to switch to tight end. Without pads, he just ran routes along with only one other tight end prospect that had attended camp. With limited competition to steal away his spotlight, he was asked to come back to the next camp and bring his pads, and after impressing then, he and his family met with Coach Ferentz in his office.

Ike attending his sister, Adrienne’s basketball game with his mom and dad

With hundreds of kids at the camp, Ferentz offered a scholarship to Boettger on the spot. A week later, he called Ferentz back and committed. “It was honestly mind blowing because two days earlier, I was thinking about trying to play quarterback or play basketball somewhere. There’s hundreds of kids at these camps, and maybe one a year gets a scholarship,” Boettger said. “It never really happens.”

As soon as he arrived on campus as a bright-eyed freshman, it was apparent that college football is treated like a business as players are competing for jobs every day. Boettger took a redshirt year, meaning he would have four years of eligibility remaining following his first year as a Hawkeye as long as he didn’t play in any games. That didn’t mean he was able to take a year off. As a scout team tight end, Boettger went up against one of the best linebacking corps in the entire country right away. “They throw you right in there so you don’t have time to be nervous,” he said.

There was no time to be nervous, but there was also no time to get acclimated with his new position either before Ferentz requested another meeting in his office with Boettger. “I’m like what did I do? What did I mess up?”

Boettger and coach Ferentz

 

With six tight ends on the roster and a need for offensive tackles, the quarterback turned tight end was told by his coach that he could be a really good tackle. So after the homecoming game against Michigan State, another position switch was made, and Boettger became an offensive tackle.

“When they tell you that they see you being better at a certain position, you don’t even think twice about it,” the new Iowa offensive tackle said.

That’s when All-American Brandon Scherff started to take Boettger under his wing. The connection between the two was immediate before they even knew how deep their similarities ran. Scherff was a high school quarterback at a massive 280 pounds as well as tight end, and he played other sports and loved the outdoors which correlated well with Boettger who once lived on a farm with 700 pigs. “Ike is the man,” said Scherff, who is a likely first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. “He came in with a great attitude, and he just came into everything with a smile. I just wanted to help him as much as possible.”

Boettger (75) walks and talks with a coach and Scherff (68)

Scherff played a role in the decision making of the position switch to offensive line. “He basically said, ‘Do you want to be a 310-pound monster or a 240-pound tight end?’ you know, using different words than that,” Boettger said.

The bond between the two became stronger when they decided to live together in a setting that allowed Scherff to teach his pupil how to eat properly, improve his hunting and fishing and live in a place where becoming better football players was the top priority. “He’s become a better player each and every day, and he always wants to get better,” said Scherff, who won the Outland Trophy as college football’s best interior lineman. “[Ike is always] watching practices right after we get done and always asking questions on what he can improve on and how he can get better.”

 

“He’s a freak,” Boettger said in the most loving way possible of his best friend, Scherff, who he remains in contact with on a daily basis.

Scherff returns the praise in a more conventional way saying, “He’s going to be a heck of a football player and can be as good as he wants to be.”

As winter break concludes, Boettger rides back to Iowa City, leaving Cedar Falls behind in his new Christmas present, a 2011 white Dodge Ram. The Dodge is bigger, shinier and newer than the old Lexus that patrolled the streets of his hometown, but he leaves his old ride behind. His license plate reads “Sup Boys,” and his iconic smile lights up, two things CFHS will never forget even as he goes on to chase his dreams once again.

 

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