Kyle Stephenson had several offers from Iowa colleges after breaking onto the scene with an outstanding senior season.
However, the South Tama County graduate was missing the one offer he dreamed of receiving an NCAA Div. I school.
"If it wasn't a really big school, I wanted to stay somewhere close," Stephenson said.
South Tama County senior Kyle Stephenson, seated center, will continue his football career at Iowa Western Community College after signing a National Letter of Intent with the Reivers. Pictured with Stephenson are his parents Jeff Stephenson and Georgia Zimmerman. Standing behind them, from left, are STC football coaches Dustin Peska (special teams), Jay Hoskey (head coach) and Nate Doran (defensive coordinator).
Without the major offer on the table, Stephenson passed on several four-year colleges in the state and chose to sign a collegiate letter of intent to play football at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.
Stephenson said he received scholarship offers from NAIA's Morningside College, NCAA Div. III's Wartburg College and Central College and NCAA Div. II's Upper Iowa University. However, he signed with Iowa Western to play running back for the Reivers.
"It was a really big relief to me to finally decide," Stephenson said. "The phone calls every week kind of get annoying. I was just happy to make the choice and I'm happy with my choice."
The South Tama star led Class 3A with 2,133 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior. He also averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 329 rushing attempts as he led the Trojans to a 9-3 record and a spot in the state quarterfinal round.
Stephenson was one of Iowa's best running backs last fall, earning Class 3A first-team honors from the Iowa Newspaper Association. Aside from leading all of 3A in rushing and touchdowns, he also had 150 yards receiving, 385 return yards and three more touchdowns along the way.
He also had a highlight kickoff return in the Trojans' final game at Grinnell. He broke several tackles along the way, was nearly blasted out of bounds and ran close to 200 yards during his 90-yard kickoff return that can be found on YouTube.
Stephenson made a name for himself as a senior, a year after playing running back and slot receiver as a junior for the Trojans. He amassed 429 rushing yards on 90 attempts and 604 receiving yards on 44 receptions.
"I think anymore you have to get on the radar of the big-time teams by your junior year," Hoskey said. "Even though he was a good ball player for us, he didn't have all of those stats. We weren't as good as a team. Some of our linemen were still about a year away from being able to play at that level.
"He was around a lot better team this year that allowed him to showcase his talents," he continued. "The other thing is football has evolved from two setbacks to a lot of schools running four-wide and one back. It's easier to get noticed as an offensive lineman. I think he has the ability to be at a big school."
STC switched to an I-set formation with Stephenson as the halfback and fellow senior Erik Lux as the fullback.
"From my junior year to my senior year, I improved my vision," Stephenson said. "I also think I got a little bit faster. You get used to playing on varsity. You get better vision all around."
His speed improvement was partially due to his return to track during the spring of his junior season. After running as a freshman, Stephenson opted not to run track as a sophomore. He finished his junior campaign with a sixth-place finish in the 3A 100-meter dash.
This year, Stephenson finished sixth in the 200-meter dash, 10th in the 100-meter dash and anchored the Trojans to a third-place finish in the 4x200-meter relay and win the 4x100-meter relay state championships.
"Oh yeah," Hoskey said of Stephenson's speed making him a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball. "The thing about his speed is it helps in the passing game, too. I know (Iowa Western) runs a lot of spread offense with a lot of read options and four wide-outs. If you get him in space with good speed, he's a threat."
Now he will take his speed to a very-talented Reivers team that is the defending National Junior College Athletic Association champions. They also have drawn the attention of many Div. I programs, which also played a factor in Stephenson's decision.
"One of the big things was it seems like all of their players get attention from everywhere, because it seems like everybody knows them now," Stephenson said. "They're a really good team."
South Tama football coach Jay Hoskey knows his star graduate might attract the attention desired from a Div. I school.
"What you have at Iowa Western is Division I talent," Hoskey said. "You've got enough guys that go Div. I from there. A lot of Div. I schools would love to have those guys. Some of them are there for different reasons than Kyle. Some of them are there because of grades, but that's not an issue with Kyle. He's a good student."
He also knows Stephenson has the ability to garner Div. I offers after two years with the Reivers.
"I think he has to have a good summer," Hoskey said. "Even though he's not bad sized, I think he can put on another 15 or 20 pounds to be that Division I guy that can take the wear and tear."
Stephenson said he is one of 11 running backs that will begin camp in early August for Iowa Western. The Reivers brought in 15 tailbacks last year, but only five remained after the fall practices finished.
"I want to get better overall bigger, faster and stronger," Stephenson said. "I want to get in there and make some good plays."
Hoskey knows Stephenson has the tools and skills to become an impact player for the Reivers. Besides his speed, other areas of Stephenson's talent may have gone unnoticed by outsiders, but not Hoskey.
"He had more than 2,100 yards, but that's not the biggest thing," Hoskey said. "The biggest stat is other than the one handoff at Newton, he carried the ball 350 times and didn't fumble. At any level, that is amazing. With that many reps, that's really good. Once he got it, he never coughed it up. That will help you win some games.
"He's an unassuming kid," he said. "He's confident in his ability, but you never hear him tooting his horn. He's kind of like an old shoe. He's comfortable to be around, but nobody feels uptight. I've never had anybody quite like him, in that he's so easy going."
Although his freshman year at Iowa Western hasn't begun, Stephenson admitted he is eyeing his future after his time in Council Bluffs.
"Iowa would be awesome," said Stephenson, who grew up a Hawkeyes fan. "If a lot of schools offer me scholarships, then I'd be happy. I think that's everyone's dream."
For now, he will enjoy his time at Iowa Western, which begins the day after he plays in the Iowa Shrine Bowl.
"It's a river pirate," Stephenson said of the Reivers mascot. "I like it."