They've traveled far and wide this summer, sometimes at the drop of a hat, to show the great and powerful Mark Mangino what they're made of, what kind of magic they've got in their arm, why they're worthy of being Mangino's latest unearthed-gem.
As June camps come to a close, there appear to be three legitimate candidates left standing, with the caveat that a surprise is always right around the corner: Demry Croft, Dominic DeLira and Sage Attwood, each overlooked and under-recruited in their own right.
Were they the first choices for Mangino and the Cyclones this spring? No. That'd be Joey Burrow, a nimble, 6-foot-4 signal-caller with ties to Ames, who could not resist the prestige of an Ohio State offer. Todd Reesing, the No. 63 quarterback in the 2006 recruiting class, wasn't Mangino's first choice — that'd be Josh Freeman — and he wasn't his second either — that'd be career Longhorns backup Sherrod Harris — but he turned out OK.
The competition likely concludes this week as Attwood, a Floridian by way of Cleveland, is set to camp Friday night at Jack Trice Stadium. It has the feel of a beauty pageant, that each quarterback is peripherally aware of what the others are up to. After DeLira's workout Saturday, one player sent a Twitter message: "How did the QB from Texas look … I wish I could have thrown side by side with him."
When Billy Bahl, a June 7 camper, committed to Miami (Ohio) on Sunday, whittling the pool of contenders from four to three, one player DM'd: "Wow … Didn't expect that."
Mangino's pull is why Croft and his father bought plane tickets to Des Moines days before the June 7 camp, an 11th-hour invitation to camp courtesy of running backs coach and Illinois recruiter Louis Ayeni. After a Thursday-night phone call with Ayeni, Bahl and his family packed up the car Friday and drove the five hours.
Same goes for Taryn Christion and Alec Ingold, who drove from South Dakota and Wisconsin, respectively, just for the chance and ended up spending most of the June 7 camp working at other positions.
It's why DeLira flew in from Texas last weekend, why Attwood will hop on a plane from Flrida% on Thursday, the second time he's thrown in front of Mangino, who he met at a Youngstown State camp a year ago.
"Coach Mark was the very first scout to recruit me and has been in contact ever since," Attwood said. "He's definitely the most honest recruiter I've met, evident of why I'm flying to Iowain hopes to play for him. I don't know what it is but there's something about being around him that just makes me want to win."
Said Croft: "I've always wanted to play for a coach like Mangino … so me and my father made a wise decision to make that trip to Iowa.
So who do Mangino, quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy and the rest of the offensive staff choose? DeLira and Attwood are similar players, both around 6-foot, 6-foot-1. Each is plenty athletic, with quick feet and creativity in the pocket. DeLira was a technician last Saturday, threading the needle in a wild wind. Attwood's accuracy will be the key for him Friday.
Croft is a player for the imagination, a 6-foot-5 kid with long, smooth strides. He's plenty accurate and showed nice touch earlier at camp. He's not a sprinter, but his 4.69 speed sure qualifies for "dual-threat" classification. His arm slot and delivery needs some polish, and he'll have to learn to stay in the pocket and go through his reads before taking off, but Croft is far from a project.
The prospective Cyclones have waited patiently — Croft for the others to throw, Attwood for his turn, DeLira a little of both — and, by all indications, would jump almost immediately at an Iowa State offer. They can't linger forever. Bahl did what he needed to do and Croft is camping at Minnesota this weekend, to keep his options open, but it's worth it for a few more days.
"I valued the opportunity to work out for Coach Mangino so much because of [his] history," Croft said, "and hopefully the history we can create together."