IOWA CITY — Geno Stone wears jersey number nine for the Iowa football team.
That’s also the number of unofficial visits Stone took in high school to the Penn State campus, hoping to attract some recruiting attention from the Nittany Lions program.
“They talked to me, told me that I was a guy they wanted,’’ Stone recalled earlier this week. “They told me my senior year that they were going to offer me in the next couple of weeks, but they never did.’’
The sophomore free safety from New Castle, Pennsylvania, attended camps at Penn State, participated with his high school team at 7-on-7 camps hosted by the Nittany Lions and did everything he could to attract the attention of Penn State coaches.
The offer he expected never came his way.
A late recruiting visit to Michigan State was cancelled, falling through in a phone call from Spartans coaches who ultimately told him their defensive back recruiting class was full.
Fed up with the process and “hurt’’ by the lack of interest from his home state school, Stone was prepared to fulfill an earlier verbal commitment to Kent State when Iowa called.
It took some convincing for him to step on the plane.
“I didn’t even know where Iowa was on the map. I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to go,’’’ Stone said.
His mother, Erin, had other ideas.
“She was like, ‘Don’t pass up an opportunity. You never know what’s going to happen,’’’ Stone recalled. “I thank my mom every day for that, for making me come here. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.’’
Stone saw the field last season as a true freshman, making his first career start in the regular-season finale at Nebraska.
“He stepped in and from day one, it seemed just so natural for him,” free safety Jake Gervase said. “He’s a smart player and is going to have a real good career here.”
With Amani Hooker moving into the box against multiple-receiver looks, Stone has earned productive playing time in the Hawkeye secondary this season.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said while the 5-foot-11, 209-pound Stone may not quite fit all of the measurements many teams seek in a safety, he fits Iowa’s main criteria in that he does a lot of things well.
“I know he’s not quite fast enough, maybe not quite tall enough, but we said the same thing about Micah Hyde,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s a pretty good football player and for what we do, he fits in pretty well. Seems to be our kind of guy.’’
Stone has started Iowa’s last three games and he shares the team lead with two interceptions. He has also forced a fumble.
Today he returns to Beaver Stadium, wearing his No. 9 jersey for the 18th-rated Hawkeyes and welcoming the challenge the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions present in the 2:30 p.m. game.
“I’m looking forward to going home, having a chance to play there,’’ Stone said. “It will be a good test. Penn State has another good team.’’
Quarterback Trace McSorley ranks eighth in the Big Ten in both passing yards and rushing and his resume includes accumulating 624 yards of offense against Iowa over the past two seasons.
He has averaged 287.9 yards during Penn State’s 5-2 start, an effort complemented by the 110.3 yards per game contributed by Miles Sanders, who ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing.
McSorley sees a challenge in Iowa.
“Their front seven is extremely impressive, how they play with their size, strength and ability, and their back end does a really good job of making you earn it the passing game. They’re not getting beat deep,’’ McSorley said. “You’ve really got to earn it on offense.’’