Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Scott Strohmeier

Scott Strohmeier's Iowa Western program could become a pipeline for Scott Frost's program at Nebraska.

You often hear junior-college athletes get stigmatized.

Be careful. There's a reason he's at a juco.

Some of the negative talk is legitimate, says Scott Strohmeier, 10th-year head football coach at Iowa Western Community College. There are indeed some rogue junior college programs, some bad behavior among players — as is the case at any level.

"We're totally on the other end of the spectrum," Strohmeier said. "Yes, we have guys who struggle academically. Yes, we have guys who made some bad choices in high school. But the majority of our team is not here because of an academic or discipline issue. They're here because they're under-recruited, have a chip on their shoulder and want to play at a higher level than they're being recruited. That's the majority of our team. We're not the typical junior college.

"We're just that blue-collar, hard-nosed program. We're going to outwork and outdiscipline you."

The 43-year-old Strohmeier on Thursday put his team through conditioning work that began at 4:50 a.m. and ended at 6:15. Study hall followed from 7:30 to 8:30. That'll be the routine for the next five weeks.

"The reputation we have with a lot of coaches is if players can make it through Iowa Western, they can make it through anywhere," Strohmeier said.

Yes, "anywhere" includes Nebraska. More to the point, it likely will include Nebraska. The key is,  Strohmeier has a relationship with new Husker head coach Scott Frost that dates to Frost's stint as an assistant coach at Northern Iowa (2007-08) — when Strohmeier was head coach at North Iowa Area CC. Strohmeier also is well-acquainted with members of Frost's staff, including Ryan Held, the Huskers' junior-college recruiting coordinator who has an extensive coaching background at that level.

Frost signed five junior college players in Nebraska's class of 2018 — which is five more than previous Husker coach Mike Riley signed during his three seasons in Lincoln. Frost's willingness to scour junior colleges is a major shift for the program. So, perhaps call Iowa Western a potentially critical shift within the shift. Although Strohmeier has sent 140 players to Football Bowl Subdivision schools during his tenure at the Council Bluffs school, he never once has sent one to Nebraska.

In fact, the Huskers have offered scholarships to a grand total of two Iowa Western players. That is a startlingly low number when you consider not only Strohmeier's tight-ship approach to running his program — which jibes with Frost's style — but also his 84-19 record at the school. Last month, he received his second American Community College Football Coaches Association national coach of the year award after leading the Reivers to an 11-1 record and No. 2 ranking in the final NJCAA Top 20.

He earned his first national coach of the year honor in 2012, when he guided Iowa Western to the national championship. Tom Osborne was guest speaker at the team's ring ceremony.

It's just another example of why it makes sense for Nebraska and Iowa Western to have a mutually beneficial connection, which is partly why Frost and Husker defensive coordinator Erik Chinander visited Iowa Western's campus late last month.

On the other hand, Strohmeier never met Riley's predecessor at Nebraska, Bo Pelini, although Strohmeier did have contact with Pelini staffers Jeff Jamrog and Barney Cotton. Strohmeier early in his tenure at Iowa Western took his staff to watch spring practice in Lincoln, and he said Cotton visited him in Council Bluffs a handful of times.

"Recruiting is about relationships, and Bo's staff already had relationships with Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College and others, just like we do with Scott and his staff," Strohmeier said. "It's not like you're going to start up a new one just because it's 45 minutes away.

"Now, you'd think it'd make sense," he added. "But when you already have other relationships built, sometimes that's the direction you go if you're heavy in the juco market. Then, with Riley's staff, I really made a lot of headway with (director of player personnel) Ryan Gunderson. He reached out to me right away. We went to Lincoln. I met Coach Riley and watched practice, sat in on meetings. I think when Ryan left for San Jose (in January 2017), there was less communication."

With the hiring of Frost comes what could be an important shift for both Nebraska and Iowa Western.

"I'm excited, because anytime we have another school that I can call and say, 'Hey, this kid's getting Power Five looks,' I know Nebraska will evaluate him now," Strohmeier said. "I'm not saying they're going to offer the kid, but I know they're going to evaluate him."

Which brings us back to Frost and Chinander's visit to Iowa Western. The Reivers have some gifted players worthy of a look, most notably Chester Graves, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end who committed to Ole Miss out of school but was an academic casualty.

"Freakishly athletic," Strohmeier said flatly.

However, "I think the big thing was Scott and Erik wanted to come and make an appearance on our campus — you know, have the head coach and defensive coordinator stop by," Strohmeier said. "That was huge for us."

That was a change for Nebraska, and long overdue.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


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