Three years ago, a freshman quarterback by the name of Nathan Costa really impressed the Hilmar coaching staff, so much so that he played a level up with the sophomores. A year later, as a sophomore, Costa was the varsity starter and led his team to within one win of a championship.
There were millions of other college football fans from all across the country watching that game, too, including Handy. That play, as well as Tate's heart as an undersized quarterback are what prompted Handy to send tape of Costa to Ken O'Keefe.
That has led Handy and Costa to within one week of a visit to Iowa City.
HawkeyeNation.com's Jon Miller spoke with Coach Handy late Monday night for the complete Nathan Costa rundown…
CRAIG HANDY: When he (Nathan) was a freshman, he played up with the sophomores. We could tell right away that he had an arm that we had not seen before, nor had we seen anything like it in our area in Central California by a kid that young, and he could move real well.
During his sophomore year, we moved him up and he played varsity football and he took us to the Sectional Championship game. In California, we do not have a state title game; we divide things up into seven sections. With two minutes to go, he drove us 80-yards to put us in field goal range to win it and we missed the kick. But we knew that he was special. He ran the ball quite a bit, too.
The head coach and myself decided that we needed to figure out a way to make him a viable threat on every play, so we flew to Chicago and met with the Northwestern staff for three days. They opened up their playbook for us in their spread offense. We implemented that last year.
He ran for 750 yard and threw for 2300, but in game seven he tore his ACL, but he did not have an MRI done, and he chose to battle through it. So he played the last three games of our season. With him being our only run threat, in the first game of the playoffs the team we played dropped eight and brought three. He still threw for 300 yards, but we had no run threat. So his stats would have been better.
He played a full season of basketball, too. He is a super strong kid, so his leg strength made up for that missing ligament.
On February 7th, the swelling had never subsided, so he was talked into having an MRI, and we saw that the ACL was gone. He had surgery on February 14th, and they took an Achilles tendon from a cadaver and repaired his knee with that. He has towed the line with what his doctor has asked him to do.
He has been rehabbing hard, working six days a week on getting that leg strength back. He is back down to running a 4.72 forty; he hasn't run under a 4.7 yet, but he has only been running forty's for two weeks. He is not doing anything side to side, just straight ahead, which is fine, nor is he ready to take a hit. But he has been cleared for that.
JON MILLER: Have you found that schools have shied away from him a bit since the injury and are taking a wait and see approach?
CH: We told everyone about it and that the doctor feels he will have a ‘predictable recovery'. Everyone is OK with that anymore, because this is common. Teams have not really shied away, but I think in the back of their minds they want to wait and watch. A lot of people are saying they are real close to offering him.
ESPN came out off of his film and a combine workout and put him in the Top 35 quarterbacks. He does not have any official offers as of yet.
Coach O'Keefe called me a month ago and said that he had not even finished watching Nathan's tape yet, but that he needed to call me and tell me that he needs to see him. Iowa, with its recent and historic success, we felt like we had to get on a plane and go out there.
It worked out well because Northwestern has been after him since he was a sophomore, so Northwestern's camp is on a Friday and we will be doing that and then going to Iowa City on Sunday afternoon.
We are pumped; Nathan is excited. I am a West Coast guy, and I love their football. But what I know of the Big Ten, they really take their football seriously out there and for a lot of the schools, that is the only game in town. People love their football out here as well, but there are other things for them to do, with professional teams all over the state. If you go to Cal, you have the Giants, the Warriors, the 49ers, the ocean, etc.
I was not a part of the conversation that Coach O'Keefe had with Nathan, but Nathan said that Ken said the entire state and part of several states shut down on Saturday's and it's all about college football.
JM: Do you think that Nathan can show enough in person with his limited lateral mobility to get some offers?
CH: I would hope so. To watch this kid take a seven-step drop, and throw a 16-yard comeback to the sideline on a rope, that is what opens coaches' eyes. That is the one route that lets you know if a player is legit. He can throw that ball as well as anyone I have seen.
I was at the Nike Camp at Stanford, I was at the Scout.com Combine at Berkley, I have been to the Elite 11. Some people say some things like Nathan is ‘undersized', but he can throw that comeback ball on a rope, and Nathan can also run the ball.
Just to have the chance to play in front of big crowds that take football serious; Nathan is very serious about football. He is a student of the game, he is eager to learn more, he understands it.
JM: Did you get a chance to see Iowa's bowl game against LSU?
Gosh yes. Coach O'Keefe said that Drew Tate is probably not even 6 feet tall with cleats on; I love that. He doesn't ‘fit the mold', as he is not 6-3 or 6-4. Iowa doesn't care, because he is a winner. They look for those kids and that is why we like Iowa.
Nathan comes from a small town and a small school in the Central Valley, which is not known for a hotbed for college prospects. He has an uphill climb with the adversity, but he is making it happen.
JM: Iowa has not traditionally recruited California the way they do with states in the Midwest. What is it that has interested Nathan most in them?
I will tell you why, because of that Cap One game. I was watching it at a friend's house, and this guy knows college football. He said ‘that is where Nathan needs to be. Nathan can be Drew Tate.' I looked at him and our eyes got big, so I went on the Internet and sent Coach O'Keefe a tape to see what it turns up. So when Coach O'Keefe called and told me what I told you earlier…I just can't wait for Sunday afternoon to get there. We have done everything we can. It seems like things have aligned themselves, so hopefully it all works out. But it was because of that game.
And Jake Christensen…he is listed at 6-feet, and I cannot believe that at 6-1, Nathan is being called undersized. He is well built and he spends a lot of time in the weight room. So I started looking at schools that don't care about how big kids are. Boise State, Northwestern, Iowa. So many teams want these 6-3, 6-4 kids. Well, you can have them. I would rather have a kid like Drew Tate who is going to win football games with his heart rather than his stature.
HawkeyeNation.com will have a follow up interview with Coach Handy and with Nathan Costa following their upcoming visit.