COUNCIL BLUFFS — Less than 14 hours from stepping to the microphone and declaring his future, Jake Waters remained a bit frazzled.
Kansas State or Penn State? Penn State or Kansas State?
Between 9 and 9:30 on Wednesday night, he shot a text to Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier, who arrived minutes later. “I wanted and needed his feedback,” Waters said.
Mother Carolyn, father Rick and younger brother Luke gathered with them, along with older brother Matt, a receiver at Ohio University, on speaker phone, and they went over the list of pros and cons they’d constructed.
Finally, clarity. Waters realized he was meant to wear Kansas State purple. About 11 hours later, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder walked to the microphone at Hoover Hall on campus, pledged his allegiance to the Wildcats and slipped on a purple hat with the famous Powercat logo as his teammates, coaches and family cheered.
“At the end of the day, it was just my gut and my heart,” he said.
It was the latest chapter in a remarkable story for the 2010 Council Bluffs St. Albert graduate.
He led the Class 1-A Falcons — who compete in the second-smallest of Iowa’s five 11-man classes — to two state titles and a 37-2 record in his three years as a starter. Waters passed for 5,288 yards and 70 touchdowns in his high school career with only 13 interceptions. He ran for another 1,820 yards and 28 scores. But the only school that really wanted him was the new junior college program on the edge of his hometown.
In just its fourth season, Waters led Iowa Western to a 12-0 mark and the national championship, setting a national juco record by completing 73.3 percent of his passes, while throwing for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns with three interceptions. On Wednesday he was named a first-team All-American, and on Thursday he was selected as the national juco offensive player of the year.
As his numbers continued to rise throughout the year, so did the caliber of programs in pursuit. Akron was the first to offer. North Carolina State and Houston were among those joining Kansas State and Penn State in the chase. Alabama and Texas showed more than passing interest in recent days.
But Waters whittled it down to Kansas State and Penn State, an unlikely pair. Penn State pulled itself up from the depths of the Jerry Sandusky scandal under coach Bill O’Brien and turned in an 8-4 record that no one saw coming.
That success — combined with O’Brien’s tutelage of Tom Brady as a New England Patriots offensive assistant for five years and the football-crazy fans of Happy Valley — had considerable influence on Waters. O’Brien visited Waters in Council Bluffs on Monday.
“Coach O’Brien did a great job,” Waters said. “I have the utmost respect for him and his program.”
Waters had similar praise for Kansas State, which finished the regular season 11-1 under coach Bill Snyder and will face Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. The Wildcats feature senior Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein at quarterback. Minutes after the Heisman winner was announced, Klein called Waters and they had a conversation, something Waters said was flattering.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Del Miller spent the early part of Wednesday night with Waters and was the last coach he had contact with. Waters said although they had a great conversation, the fact that Miller made the final pitch didn’t affect his decision.
It was only after weighing all the factors that Waters realized where he wanted to play.
“There was almost a switch that went on,” Rick Waters said. “He said, ‘You know, I’ve decided.’ You could tell instantly he was kind of relieved.”
About 11:30 p.m., everyone in the house celebrated. The recruiting process was over.
Waters was impressed with Snyder throughout, especially during his visit to Manhattan last weekend.
“He was all about family and sticking together,” he said. “I saw a lot of resemblances to that and what we have here at Iowa Western. I just felt home there.”
Waters will begin classes in January. Although the quarterback position is open, he said Snyder guaranteed nothing.
“I wouldn’t want that,” he said. “He just said that there’s a good chance to come in and earn it.”
Had Waters chosen Penn State, he wouldn’t have been able to participate in a bowl game. The Nittany Lions have three years remaining on their postseason ban handed down by the NCAA after the Sandusky ordeal.
Waters said he didn’t place great emphasis on that factor when making his decision, but added that after leading the Reivers to a championship, he’s grateful for a chance to compete for a national title at his new school.
The All-American’s decision registered well beyond his hometown and the two campuses pursuing his services. For a brief time after the announcement, his name was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the United States.
The local star seemed humbled by it all.
“Coming out of St. Albert in 2010, I never would have thought it would be like this,” he said. “I just wanted another opportunity to play, and Coach Stroh and the coaching staff here gave me that opportunity. I can’t thank them enough. They’re about the only coaching staff in the country that saw something in me and believed in me.”
As the room where the announcement occurred finally began to empty, Waters looked forward to one more appointment on the day.
“I’m going to go work out and throw today and just get my mind off everything,” he said. “Definitely, it’s going to be nice to just get back to work.”
Nash joins Reiver teammates at KSU
Devon Nash liked what he saw at Kansas State last weekend.
He liked it so much he’s decided to join Iowa Western teammates Waters and Travis Green there.
Nash, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end out of Lincoln East, verbally committed to the Wildcats on Thursday, following Waters, who did the same, and Green, who made his pledge in late November.
Coming out of high school, Nash had some Division II offers but came to the Reivers as a linebacker prospect. After adding some weight, he blossomed into a first-team All-America defensive end. He selected Kansas State over Oklahoma State after home visits from both Wednesday.
“After they left, we evaluated everything and I made my decision,” Nash said. “I’m blessed to be playing with two former Reivers.”
The 6-1, 210-pound Green, a safety out of Omaha North, said he’ll miss the camaraderie he found at Iowa Western.
“It’s been a blessing being a part of this team,” Green said. “It’s crazy how everything starts, being the kid from the metro area in Omaha, and not being able to get out and do a lot of things. To make this jump is setting a big example for some of us that have to take the juco route.”
In all, 13 Reivers have committed to Division I programs to date. A 14th, second-team All-America running back Aaron Wimberly, initially committed to Iowa State but has since backed off and also is considering TCU and Boise State.
Another Reiver running back, Don Jackson, gave his verbal commitment earlier in the week to Nevada. The Sacramento, Calif., native said he couldn’t have found a better home than the one in Council Bluffs. He and the Waters family became close, and Jake Waters became more emotional when Jackson spoke than he was during his own speech.
“Being far away from home, they understood that,” Jackson said. “They found a way to bring me in and basically make me their son. And I appreciate that.”
Junior college players can sign national letters of intent on Wednesday.
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