Iowa junior college makes a fast rise in football

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ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, SEPT. 14-15 - In this photo taken Aug. 29, 2013, Dan Kinney, president of the Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa, right, introduces a new style uniform to the football team during practice. Under head coach Scott Srohmeier and the support of president Kinney, the Reivers won the national championship last year, in their fourth season, and they started this week on a nation-leading 16-game win streak. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)


COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Charlie Weis and others flock to this place tucked in the hills along the Missouri River to visit a bespectacled 38-year-old who is the hottest coach in junior-college football.

Scott Strohmeier started the program at Iowa Western Community College only five years ago, and he's winning and developing major-college talent at a dizzying rate.

The Reivers won the national championship last year, in their fourth season, and they started this week on a nation-leading 16-game win streak. Since 2010, they've won 33 of 37 games and have sent a total of 37 players to programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Iowa Western outscored this season's first three opponents 147-27 with its Oregon-style, up-tempo spread offense that leads the nation at 563 yards a game.

"Right out of the gate, this was our goal," Strohmeier said. "I knew when the school started the program that they wanted it at a national level for sure."

Football and 20 other sports are a great source of pride at the 7,000-student school. The Reivers have won national championships in volleyball, baseball and football since 2006.

That nickname? It's pronounced REE-vers, and it refers to the pirates who attacked boats on the Missouri River in the 19th century. The most notable athletic alumni are Russ Mormon, a major-league journeyman in the 1980s and '90s, and current Philadelphia Phillies' reliever Jeremy Horst.

"Whether sports or an academic program, you only get involved in things you can do well in," school president Dan Kinney said. "If you can't, don't do it. If we can't do it as well or better than anybody in the country, we're not going to do it.

"We're going to make whatever we do quality."

It was Kinney's idea to add football. He had been president at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas in the 1980s, when it was one of the country's top programs, and he saw how it served to unify students and alumni.

Conditions and timing were right for Iowa Western.

Start with the location. Many junior-college football programs are in hard-to-reach places. Council Bluffs is a bedroom community for Omaha, Neb., and the campus is minutes away from the airport. Access is easy for players and their families, not to mention for the Division I coaches who are out recruiting.

The school puts $500,000 a year into football, allowing Strohmeier to have four full-time assistants and nine part-timers or volunteers. The budget, generous by juco standards, allows Strohmeier to maintain a roster of about 170, run a junior varsity and schedule road games this season against top competition in Texas and Georgia.

The Reivers' start in football coincided with three programs in Illinois, one in Michigan and one in Iowa dropping football for budgetary reasons. There are still as many players who need to go the junior-college route — the undersized, the academic casualties, those who left four-year schools — and the Reivers fill a void in the Midwest.

And then there's Strohmeier, who was hired from a pool of some 600 candidates after he turned North Iowa Area Community College's struggling program into a nationally ranked team in three years. NIACC was the Iowa school that dropped football, a year after Strohmeier left.

Strohmeier said his success also stems from the stability of the coaching staff. His brother, Mike, is offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator and has coached with him since 2005. Defensive coordinator Mike Blackbourn and two other assistants have been at Iowa Western since the start, and two others are in their fourth years.

"You can't minimize the job he's done even with the great resources he has," said Bert Williams, coach at national power Georgia Military School. "If you get into a junior-college situation and you resource it and you do a good job training your students in the classroom and in the college setting, people are going to want to work with you."

Some 90 Division I head coaches or assistants passed through last season, Oklahoma's Stoops, Baylor's Briles and Kansas' Weis among them.

A total of 18 players from the national championship team moved on to FBS schools. That's most of any junior college in the nation.

Jake Waters, the 2012 national offensive player of the year, is starting quarterback at Kansas State. Five other players from last year's offense are starting on FBS teams.

The offense is rolling again this year. Connor Bravard is passing for more than 250 yards a game and has thrown nine touchdowns against one interception. Akise Teague is running for more than 100 yards a game, and Geronimo Allison is the nation's second-leading receiver.

Strohmeier said he doesn't need to move up to the major-college ranks to satisfy his ego. He and his wife have three young daughters, and life in the Bluffs is good. He could see himself retiring at Iowa Western.

"If you go Division I, what's the premier school, Alabama," he asked. "I feel at my level I have the premier job."