Iowa Western tapped into one of Nebraska’s high school powerhouses Wednesday.
Omaha North’s Mekhi Butler, the No. 1 offensive lineman in the state according to NebHSRecruiting.com, signed with the Reivers during a morning ceremony at the school. Zander Gray, also ranked the state’s No. 1 running back, is expected to sign with Iowa Western on Thursday.
“It’s a really good program, and we got two of their better players,” Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier said. “They’ve been a part of state championship teams.”
The 6-foot-3, 328-pound Butler is a two-time, first-team All-Nebraska choice who also started on the defensive line. He’s expected to play offense at Iowa Western.
“Mekhi’s really, really talented,” Strohmeier said. “He’s got a huge upside, from an offensive line standpoint. He fits the style of play that we want.”
Butler said he felt at home on the Iowa Western campus.
“The coaches are great,” he said. “They will work with me. I’ve met some of the players and they’ve been really helpful.”
The 6-1, 225-pound Gray rushed for 1,555 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, overcoming a midseason concussion to earn second-team All-Nebraska honors. He finished his career with 4,731 rushing yards and 65 touchdowns. He will play either running back or linebacker for the Reivers.
“Zander, it’s really just a positional deal for him,” Strohmeier said. “Is he going to be a running back? Is he going to be a linebacker? But he’s a good athlete, a big, physical kid. Any time we get kids from Coach Larry Martin over there, it’s good. We know what type of program he runs.”
Gray could compete with former North star Milton Sargbah for playing time at running back.
“I was just talking to him the other day about it,” Gray said. “He was just telling me to work and be myself.”
Gray still hopes to play running back, but added he’ll go wherever the coaches think he can help the team most.
“Wherever the spot is open, I’m going to step up as a man and do the job,” he said.
Martin’s son, Zach, is a former quarterback at Iowa Western.
“Having multiple players, having my own child play over there, having Coach Strohmeier, who has a very good understanding of all kids, I have no hesitation sending kids over there,” he said.
The Reivers also got Council Bluffs Lewis Central all-state receiver Josh Simmons. The 6-foot, 200-pound Simmons finished second in Iowa’s Class 3-A last season with 1,112 receiving yards.
“We’re really excited about Josh, with the ability that he has and how I think he fits into what we want to do offensively,” Strohmeier said. “He felt like he probably could have played at a higher level, and we kind of slipped in there late because some schools fell through.”
Simmons was invited to walk on at South Dakota, and had an offer from NAIA power Morningside, but thought the junior college route suited him best.
Simmons tore his posterior-cruciate ligament during a basketball game a month ago. He’s not having surgery and is rehabbing daily, with the hope of returning to full strength in two to three months.
» Two Omaha Creighton Prep players also signed with the Reivers, center Jack Hasz and defensive tackle Luke Sims. Another Junior Jay, offensive lineman Trendell Dawkins, will join the team as a walk-on.
» Iowa Western announced six players from last year’s squad who have selected Division I schools this month. They are defensive tackles Atlias Bell (Houston) and Elijah James (Liberty), defensive backs Rodney Owens (Memphis) and Drew Dostal (Iowa), wide receiver Michael Zachary (Northern Iowa) and kicker Eddie Ogamba (Iowa State). Ogamba and Dostal will be walk-ons.
» Three others from Omaha North signed Wednesday: offensive lineman Keegan Clark with Northwest Missouri State, linebacker Steven Krawczyk with Morningside and kicker Jared Venner with Truman State.
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