West Des Moines Dowling grad, Iowa Western linebacker Willie O’Hara will walk on at Iowa

West Des Moines Dowling grad Willie O'Hara, No. 52, set Iowa Western’s single-season tackle record this year with 164 stops.

Willie O’Hara grew up an Iowa football fan.

So when the Hawkeyes came calling, even though he’ll have to pay at least initially, O’Hara climbed aboard.

The 6-foot-2, 238-pound sophomore All-America linebacker from Iowa Western has accepted a preferred walk-on offer to play at Iowa. He will join the program for offseason workouts in the second semester, leaving on Saturday, and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

“It’s a dream come true,’’ the West Des Moines Dowling product said. “It’s definitely exciting. It’s something that I’ve always dreamed about. They have that blue-collar type program that I think I kind of fit into. I just like everything the program’s about and stands for.’’

O’Hara had full-ride offers from FCS schools Indiana State, Missouri State, Southeast Missouri State, Chattanooga and UT-Martin. Later, he added FBS full-ride offers from Akron and Texas at San Antonio.

But just before Christmas, Iowa entered the picture. O’Hara said he made his decision just prior to the Hawkeyes’ bowl win over Mississippi State on New Year’s Day, but kept it to himself for a time.

O’Hara estimates he’s watched “50 to 60 games’’ at Kinnick Stadium. His father, Brad, was a Big Ten football official from 2005 to 2015, so he he’s attended games in several of the other conference stadiums.

The Dowling product set Iowa Western’s single-season tackle record this year with 164 stops. But he didn’t garner any full offers from Power Five schools, perplexing the Reiver staff a bit.

“He’s the hardest-working kid you’re going to have,’’ Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier said. “He does everything right. He loves football. He doesn’t pass the eyeball test or check all the boxes that everybody’s looking for, but he’s going to give you everything he’s got. And that’s what Iowa’s built their program on.

“He’s going to make an impression on them in the offseason with just his work ethic and dedication and commitment. As long as they give him an opportunity on the field, he won’t let them down.’’

O’Hara isn’t overly concerned with his perceived lack of ideal size and speed. Several former Hawkeye standouts in the same mold were his favorite players. He mentioned defensive lineman Mitch King and running back Marc Weisman as those he particularly enjoyed.

“I just think I’m a gamer, you know?’’ he said. “I just want to go out there and beat people. None of that stuff matters if you can play football. I might be overlooked because of my size, maybe my speed a little. But that hasn’t held me back so far, so why should it now?’’

O’Hara said he owes the Reivers plenty for keeping his dream alive.

“Iowa Western is the best decision I ever made,’’ he said. “It’s a place of opportunity. I went there because I didn’t want to sell myself short, and I can’t thank Coach Stroh and staff enough.’’

Willie O’Hara grew up an Iowa football fan.
So when the Hawkeyes came calling, even though he’ll have to pay at least initially, O’Hara climbed aboard.
The 6-foot-2, 238-pound sophomore All-America linebacker from Iowa Western has accepted a preferred walk-on offer to play at Iowa. He will join the program for offseason workouts in the second semester, leaving on Saturday, and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“It’s a dream come true,’’ the West Des Moines Dowling product said. “It’s definitely exciting. It’s something that I’ve always dreamed about. They have that blue-collar type program that I think I kind of fit into. I just like everything the program’s about and stands for.’’
O’Hara had full-ride offers from FCS schools Indiana State, Missouri State, Southeast Missouri State, Chattanooga and UT-Martin. Later, he added FBS full-ride offers from Akron and Texas at San Antonio.
But just before Christmas, Iowa entered the picture. O’Hara said he made his decision just prior to the Hawkeyes’ bowl win over Mississippi State on New Year’s Day, but kept it to himself for a time.
O’Hara estimates he’s watched “50 to 60 games’’ at Kinnick Stadium. His father, Brad, was a Big Ten football official from 2005 to 2015, so he he’s attended games in several of the other conference stadiums.
The Dowling product set Iowa Western’s single-season tackle record this year with 164 stops. But he didn’t garner any full offers from Power Five schools, perplexing the Reiver staff a bit.
“He’s the hardest-working kid you’re going to have,’’ Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier said. “He does everything right. He loves football. He doesn’t pass the eyeball test or check all the boxes that everybody’s looking for, but he’s going to give you everything he’s got. And that’s what Iowa’s built their program on.
“He’s going to make an impression on them in the offseason with just his work ethic and dedication and commitment. As long as they give him an opportunity on the field, he won’t let them down.’’
O’Hara isn’t overly concerned with his perceived lack of ideal size and speed. Several former Hawkeye standouts in the same mold were his favorite players. He mentioned defensive lineman Mitch King and running back Marc Weisman as those he particularly enjoyed. 
“I just think I’m a gamer, you know?’’ he said. “I just want to go out there and beat people. None of that stuff matters if you can play football. I might be overlooked because of my size, maybe my speed a little. But that hasn’t held me back so far, so why should it now?’’
O’Hara said he owes the Reivers plenty for keeping his dream alive.
“Iowa Western is the best decision I ever made,’’ he said. “It’s a place of opportunity. I went there because I didn’t want to sell myself short, and I can’t thank Coach Stroh and staff enough.’’

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