WVU football: Sunshine State kind to Big 12 outliers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Jeremiah George and his father Ike have a bond that's difficult for the Iowa State linebacker to explain to someone who didn't experience it.
"Our relationship, especially when it comes to life and football in general, is that the two are similar in our eyes," George said. "We take everything from life and we incorporate it into football and we take everything from football and we incorporate it into life."
Ike George was a high school star at Florida's Dunedin High School - "Ask around Clearwater. He's known," Jeremiah said. - who told his son he didn't get go further because he didn't get along with his coach. He used that to make sure his son never had the same shortcoming, or any other, for that matter.
"His words were that he wants me to do better than he has throughout life," Jeremiah said.
Ike knew it wouldn't be easy, which meant he'd have to be tough.
Jeremiah's mother was never really a part of his life and left the family when he was very young. When Jeremiah was 12, he and Ike weren't getting along and when Ike wanted his son to get on the right track before it was too late. He sent his son to live with Shannon Sebek.
Ike and Sebek had dated before and had a son together. Sebek had known Jeremiah since he was 4, and today Jeremiah calls Sebek his mother. She saw all of his high school football games and made sure he had the grades and the test scores to play in college.
Jeremiah's biological mother has reached out just once with a phone call since leaving and Jeremiah was never too interested in growing it from there.
"I tried to talk to her, but it's different," he said. "When you have someone who's loved you and cared for you, how can you go back to someone else?"
When the time came for George to pick a college, he chose Iowa State. He's one of 24 Floridians on the Cyclones roster that will play West Virginia at 4 p.m. Saturday at Mountaineer Field. WVU has 20 Floridians on its roster. No one in the Big 12 has benefited more from the Sunshine State than the teams farthest from Texas.
"Relationships," Coach Paul Rhoads.
When Rhoads was hired five years ago and started hiring coaches, he made sure his choices could pull players out of Florida. George is one of many who have bought what the Cyclones are selling.
"It's a family atmosphere," he said. "I come from a close family. It was something I can appreciate, and I really admired that Coach Rhoads had a father and a son on his coaching staff because of the relationship I have with my father. I saw something where I could have that relationship at Iowa State."
George's position coach is defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who's been recruiting the same part of Florida for more than three decades now. His son, Shane, is Iowa State's defensive line coach, and he, too, recruits Florida. Rhoads, whose son is a freshman long snapper, has four assistants to comb specific parts of the state for players.
"What are the big states with a lot of talent?" George said. "Florida, Texas and California and some say Georgia. There are others here and there. But look at Florida, Texas and California. They're big sates with a lot of talented football players. In my opinion, there are only three popular schools in Florida - Florida, Florida State and Miami.
"If you're from Florida and you don't get to go to any of those, why not extend your playing days somewhere else? I think that's the biggest reason you see so many players going to Iowa State or West Virginia. Those schools and those coaches are down (in Florida) and they understand that."
Five Floridians start for Iowa State's defense, including three in the secondary and George, the senior who leads the Big 12 with 126 tackles. Speed is critical on defense in the conference, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary to handle the league's offenses. Iowa State has five linebackers and five defensive backs from Florida.
Three more Floridians start on offense, each at a skill position, led by receiver Quenton Bundrage, who has 41 receptions for 583 yards and seven scores. There are numbers at the skill positions, too.
Sam Richardson started the first seven games at quarterback before giving way to Grant Rohach - a Californian who completed 15 of 20 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win against Kansas.
The Cyclones have three running backs and six receivers from Florida even though, no, Iowa in the fall and winter is not to be confused with Florida at any time of the year.
"I can spin that in the opposite direction," Rhoads said. "It isn't the coast. It isn't water. It isn't warm temperatures in December and January. But that's been a problem very few times. In fact, I would argue that we would get more people that want to leave the heat to train and to practice and to play than people who are scared of the cold."
Those are the battles WVU and Iowa State must wage, and they do it in like manners. The campus towns are similar. Ames, Iowa, has more people than Morgantown, but the population is roughly twice the size because the town is about twice as big. The schools are similar with about the same enrollment and a campus that blends into the town. Both are public land grand institutions and both are the largest school in the state, but both have state high schools that can't fill out a roster.
And while both schools have the same goals when it comes to recruiting players from Florida, they have the same obstacles, too.
"The biggest challenge we have recruiting is getting people to come to Ames," Rhoads said.
It's what his counterpart, WVU's Dana Holgorsen, has said about Morgantown and what his predecessors Bill Stewart and Rich Rodriguez said before him.
What they all said, though, is that when WVU gets a player on campus, the rest can take care of itself.
It's no different for Rhoads, who was born 10 minutes from Jack Trice Stadium and went to high school 20 minutes from campus. He has the new two-story, 60,000 square foot, $20.6 million football center and an indoor practice facility at his disposal.
"The response I most often get is, 'Wow, I had no idea,'" Rhoads said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.