Small Town Player Gaining Big Time Interest

At Iowa, offensive line is always going to be a position of high importance. With 2003 Outland Award winner Robert Gallery read to go very high in the NFL's 2004 Draft, the Hawkeyes are already looking to reload for the years to come. HN.com has introduced you to Dan Doering, who will be one of the most coveted trenchmen in the class of 2005. We now introduce you to a lesser known player, at least for now: Hoxie, Arkansas' Drew Gardner. And yes, you <i>have</i> heard of Hoxie before.

Hoxie, Arkansas situated between Walnut Ridge and Arbor Grove, while being just a stones throw from Discus. With a population of 2,817, the average mean-time drive to work is 22.9 minutes.

For those of you that grew up in a small town, like I did, you can almost picture it.

Good things can come from small towns. Good football players, too.

Iowa fans should be familiar with the name of Hoxie, Arkansas, as quarterback Cy Phillips hails from that fine village.

It's not everyday that a small town produces a player that can earn a D1 scholarship to play football in a high major conference, and it's even more rare when another such prospect comes along three years later.

But that is what is developing down Hoxie way, as word on 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive lineman Drew Gardner is spreading beyond the borders of Lawrence County; over the hills and far away.

Schools such as Iowa, Tennessee, Missouri, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kansas, Memphis, Vanderbilt and others know Gardner's address and are sending him mail regarding their academic institutions and football programs.

Hoxie head coach Tom Sears just completed his fifth year as head coach, and he is certain that he has another high-major recruit on his hands.

"He is a big guy. He is just a big, strong kid. He has a lot of people looking at him," Sears said of Gardner.

"He is going to Tennessee's Junior Day next weekend and he is going to stop off at Vanderbilt on the way up there. He has already been to Memphis for a Junior Day. He is a good, good kid. His father is the principal at our high school, and he has a 3.1 grade point average. He is an all-around good kid."

Gardner grew up more of a basketball player than a football player, due as much to geography as anything else.

"For a big kid, he moves well. He can spot up and shoot the three and brings the ball up some against the press. He grew up in a basketball school, but his father moved to Hoxie in the 9th grade, so he really has only played two years of football. He has really taken off in those two years. It's a good thing that his dad moved down here, because he is playing the sport that he needs to be playing." Sears said.

"He is a big, burly kid. He does not have hardly any body fat on him for a 300-pounder, and he looks like one of those kids that can hold 350-pounds."

Two members of Iowa's 2004 recruiting class received offers on the heels of Iowa coaching staff members watching them perform on the basketball court, and Gardner still plays the sport for Hoxie.

"If a kid does well in basketball, it speaks to their agility and to be able to develop as a complete player. And that is what a college will do with Drew; take him to the next level."

Sears played college football for Arkansas State and has already been through the recruiting circuit with the aforementioned Cy Phillips, so he knows a thing or two about schools sending players form letters and there being serious interest.

"He (Gardner) is getting tremendous amount of interest. No one has offered him yet, because it's early and because he is a late bloomer that is really coming on. He is very close to his family, and I would say that Iowa would be as far away as he would want to go." Sears said.

"He wants to get away, and with Cy being at Iowa, I think he likes that. We went to the Iowa-Michigan game last year (October of 2003), and he enjoyed that experience."

The Iowa staff first heard about Gardner a few years back.

"I told coach (Ron) Aiken about Drew when they were recruiting Cy, that Drew was big for his age and he would grow some more. He told me to keep him informed. He has developed into that type of player that can play at that level."

"Mississippi State, Arkansas, Tennessee, Memphis, Kansas has shown a lot of interest, and Vanderbilt. They (Vandy) have come on here lately, and they have been dipping into Arkansas more and more. I am not really sure how they found out about Drew. They got involved a month ago and they want him to come up there and get to know him."

As for where the Hawkeyes stand with Gardner at this particular time:

"I have talked with Coach (Eric) Johnson, and he has always been very up front. He said that Drew looked really good on the tape that I gave them, but that Drew is not someone they are going to offer right now. But he said that he was definitely a high prospect for them." Sears said.

"If he wasn't, I know that the Iowa coaches would tell me the truth. They have never beaten around the bush with me. If he keeps developing, I think that Drew would have a chance with them."


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