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COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa - When Iowa Western head coach Scott Strohmeier came to Council Bluffs to start the Reiver's program in 2008, he saw potential to be a big-time player on the junior college stage.
But nobody could've predicted this kind of start.
In just its second year of existence, IWCC finished 9-2 and was one game from playing El Dorado (Kan.) Butler C.C. for the national championship, before falling to Ellsworth 34-14 after beating it the previous week.
On Wednesday, Iowa Western's stellar sophomore season continued, as six Reiver players signed Division I letters of intent and at least two more will sign by February.
"We knew that we had a good class coming in that first year, but to say that we'd be signing six guys to Division I scholarships in December and there's still a couple more that will sign, it's obviously a credit to those kids," Strohmeier said. "They're good players and they've really worked hard. My staff has done an unbelievable job and it's a good day for Iowa Western overall."
Of IWCC's six December signees, five will play at BCS schools next season. The group is led by four-star defensive tackle Jared Ebert, who signed with Oregon over offers from Penn State and Oklahoma State, among others.
A big reason Ebert chose the Ducks, other than their on-field success, is the fact he'll be in Eugene for spring practice in March. Since Oregon operates on the trimester system, it was the only school that allowed him to get there in time for spring practice.
"It was a pretty big factor because spring ball is such a crucial key to getting into the rotation," Ebert said of his decision. "If I wanted to play right away because I'm a JUCO and I only have two years, I want the best shot of playing early. Making spring ball definitely increases my chances of getting up on the depth chart."
Three-star quarterback Zack Stoudt signed with Ole Miss on Wednesday, after a tight recruiting race with Kansas down the stretch.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Stoudt originally started his career at Louisville, but landed at IWCC after a coaching change. He chose Ole Miss simply for the challenge of playing in the SEC. He'll head into Oxford this January with expectations to win the starting quarterback job.
"I think (Stoudt) has all the tools to play in the SEC," Strohmeier said. "There's no question in my mind that he can play in that league. Is there a transition? Well, yeah, there's going to be a transition for him and he knows he's got some things to work on.
"I think when you bring the other traits that he has as a quarterback that's a plus for him. He's got a great opportunity and they brought him in there to compete and hopefully he can win the job. There's no question in my mind he can play at that level."
On the offensive line, Iowa Western had two players sign on Wednesday in tackle Dan Heiar (Iowa) and center Dallas Hendrikson (Rutgers). Like Ebert, both Heiar and Hendrikson came to IWCC from the state of Iowa with the hopes to keep playing football after limited recruiting opportunities out of high school.
Their decision to go JUCO definitely paid off, as Heiar said it landed him his "dream offer" from Iowa.
"I'm pretty happy right now because a whole lot of kids don't get the chance to play for the Hawkeyes," Heiar said. "Being from the home state and at a junior college, this doesn't happen very often. When I got the chance to do this I couldn't pass it up."
Cornerback David Whitmore, a 2008 Nebraska signee, also signed with Baylor on Wednesday, while tight end Max Miller signed with San Jose State.
Defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Lenard Williams both continue to weigh their Division I options and will sign by February. Rowell has already visited Baylor and Ohio, and he'll visit West Virginia this weekend. Williams took an official visit to Washington State this past weekend.
Strohmeier said to see so many of his guys get opportunities to move on to the next level was a special day for Iowa Western and hopefully a sign of what's to come in the future.
"All but two of the guys that signed were recruited by us before we ever played a game of football here," Strohmeier said. "They bought in the system that we had to start the foundation. They all had other options, but for whatever reason they decided they wanted to start the foundation here at Iowa Western and really build it. It's a special group. They are the first true cycle of a two-year recruiting class for us.
"They will always be entrenched in Iowa Western history because they were the first. It is truly a special group because they are great guys on the field, but they are a great group to coach and a real good group of kids."