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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz thinks Iowa screwed up by not recruiting James Butler out of high school.
The Hawkeyes recently rectified that error, adding Butler as a highly coveted graduate transfer that they hope can help getting their sluggish offense on track.
Butler, who gained over 1,300 yards rushing in each of his last two seasons at Nevada, joined Iowa (8-5 in 2016) last month after graduating in just three years. The addition of Butler, combined with star Akrum Wadley's return following a breakout season in 2016, should give the Hawkeyes a formidable ground game to help compensate for a passing attack that looks unsettled heading into this season.
"He's a really good football player, and to me that's a really good start. We're trying to collect those guys," Brian Ferentz said. "We probably made a mistake not getting him in our program a lot sooner. And so far what we've seen out of him, he's just verified everything that we thought we knew."
Iowa wasn't the only Big Ten school to overlook Butler, who peaked as a senior while at St. Francis High just outside of Chicago. But Butler made an immediate impact at Nevada, rushing for 635 yards as a freshman before gaining 1,345 yards on 6.5 yards a carry in 2015.
Last season Butler rushed for 1,336 yards with 12 touchdowns and was named his team's most valuable player. But a coaching change convinced Butler to explore his options.
The return of Wadley, a senior who ran for 1,081 yards and 10 TDs in 2016, might have kept most transfer backs away from Iowa City. But Butler looked into the way Iowa used its backs and its history of strong offensive lines — which should again be the case in 2017 — and decided the Hawkeyes would be a good fit.
"To have him on campus and start having an opportunity to work with him, I think all of us have been really enjoying that. We're really pleased. And anytime you can add a good player and a good person, a high-caliber guy to your roster, that's a positive," head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Butler also noticed how Iowa split carries between Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr. last season — when that duo became the first in school history to top 1,000 yards in the same season.
"There's nothing wrong with competition, and I didn't come here to take anyone's spot. I just came here to be the best teammate I can be," said Butler, who also considered Indiana and Louisville.
Butler was rarely a receiving threat out of the backfield at the start of his career. But he caught 37 passes for 381 yards last season, and the Hawkeyes will likely seek to utilize him as an option in the passing game given how much uncertainty Iowa has in that regard.
The Hawkeyes have just one returning wide receiver that caught a pass for them last year in senior Matt VandeBerg, and the competition for the starting quarterback job between Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers could stretch into the season.
"I'm happy that last year I was able to show that ability (to catch passes)," Butler said. "Hopefully that's in the game plan."
Iowa also has a promising back in freshman Toren Young, who excelled in its spring game in April.
Young is even listed as the backup on the depth chart, but the Hawkeyes will look to capitalize on Butler's skills as quickly as possible.
"He's a great back. I've seen him do things that can't be coached out here," Wadley said of Butler. "He has good vision, and when he gets to the second level he makes cuts that can't be coached. And he has great hands."
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