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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Iowa Western Helped Turn Devin Drew From a High School Linebacker to a Power Five Defensive Lineman

May 03, 2022

When those who watched Devin Drew play middle linebacker on Friday nights at Raytown High School in Missouri, Aaron Terry saw a defensive lineman.

Terry has coached the defensive line at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs since 2017 and is also the recruiting coordinator. And Drew, who he recruited to play on the defensive line for the Reivers, just committed to Nebraska on Tuesday.

Drew’s addition to the Huskers’ program and its defensive line was badly needed. Following the transfers of projected starter Casey Rogers, who attended USC’s spring game and recently picked up an offer from Oregon, and Jordon Riley, who was expected to provide depth on the interior of the d-line but transferred to Oregon before spring ball, Nebraska was left with little depth in the middle of its defense behind starter Ty Robinson.

What young depth there is on the interior—Nash Hutmacher, Colton Feist, Mosai Newsom, Ru’Quan Buckley and Jailen Weaver—doesn’t have the Power Five playing experience Drew has. The 6-foot-2, 280-pounder spent two seasons at Texas Tech where he was a key piece to the Red Raiders’ d-line.

In 23 games with Tech, Drew recorded 55 tackles. Prior to his time in Lubbock, Drew spent his first two seasons of college ball at Iowa Western, which is where he learned to be a d-lineman from Terry.

When Terry, who spent two seasons coaching on the Nebraska-Kearney staff before going to Iowa Western, first found out about Drew, he was a linebacker standing around the 6-2, 6-3 range and about 240 pounds. During the recruiting process, Terry sold Drew on beginning his college career at Iowa Western.

Drew wound up walking on at Iowa Western and started sixth on the depth chart at defensive end. But by the end of fall camp, Drew was starting for the Reivers as a true freshman. Only a few others have accomplished that at Iowa Western, which lost to New Mexico Military Institute in the National Junior College Athletic Association championship game last season. Even Perrion Winfrey, a former Reiver who went on to star at Oklahoma and become a fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Draft last weekend, started as a depth guy in his first season in Council Bluffs.

“He’s a work-horse type kid. Really disciplined,” Terry said of Drew. “Focuses on his fundamentals and just perfected his craft. He’s one of a few players who started two seasons for us. That’s just the type of kid and player he is.”

Drew’s first season at Iowa Western was his first as a d-lineman. He was an undersized defensive end that year, playing at around 255 pounds. While he was still growing and adding weight, his experience as a linebacker helped him as he learned to play on the line of scrimmage. His hand technique improved. So did his footwork and eye discipline to read his keys so he could react quicker.

Drew was able to rack up 39 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks as a true freshman.

“He bought in and hit the ground running,” Terry said. “There were a lot of good instincts with playing linebacker, so the transition wasn’t too hard from that standpoint, and he picked up the fundamentals quick. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s going to Nebraska.”

By his second season, Drew had built his body up to 270 pounds and was well on his way to becoming a NJCAA All-American and Iowa Community College Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. In just his second season, Drew had 58 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

By then, it was clear to Terry and everyone else that Drew was destined to play major college football.

“We knew that once he moved on to the next level, he’ll probably be moving into more of a 4i (inside shoulder of the offensive tackle) or 3-tech (outside shoulder of the guard) type player, just with the way his body trajectory was going,” Terry said. “What we kind of do schematically, he kind of fit our mold of some of our strong-side ends—they’re a little bit more heavier, thicker, kind of 3-tech bodies. So it was an easy transition once he went to Texas Tech.”

Terry saw Drew take the next step at Texas Tech. Drew took the small and detailed fundamentals he learned at Iowa Western to Lubbock and turned into a valuable part to the Red Raiders’ defensive front for two seasons.

Terry knew that Drew would keep improving once Drew had the resources of a Power Five school—things like the weight program and training table.

“When you’re fundamentally sound and then you start getting the physical pieces with it, that’s when you can take that game to the next level,” Terry said. “And that’s what he’s shown at his time at Texas Tech. And I even think his style of play fits the Big Ten even more with how he’s a pretty good run stuffer and the way he can use his hands and take on blocks.”

Nebraska’s defense under coordinator Erik Chinander has the flexibility to play both a three- and four-down front. Drew has the ability to play in both as well, but with one season left to play in his career, he wanted to find a defense that fit the best.

The idea of playing in a four-down defense appealed to Drew.

“He had one year left and he wanted to make sure that it was kind of a four-down spot to where he can get a lot more one-on-ones,” Terry said. “A lot of times in those three-downs, you’re getting a lot of double teams and you can’t really showcase your skills. So I think with it being his last year, he wanted to just go all out and get into a system he felt could showcase his skills and be able to give him a shot to play at the next level.”

The addition of TCU transfer Ochaun Mathis should help everyone else on the Huskers’ d-line, Drew included. In four seasons at TCU, the 6-5, 257-pound Mathis, one of the most coveted edge rushers in the transfer portal who chose Nebraska over Texas last Saturday, collected 30.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks. Garrett Nelson, a 6-3, 245-pound outside linebacker who plays with his hand in the turf often, is coming off his best season in Lincoln, one where he had a team-high 11.5 stops for a loss with five sacks. Then there’s Caleb Tannor, an undersized but quick outside ‘backer at 6-3, 225 pounds, who had a career-high 5.5 tackles for a loss last season.

With the roles on the edges of Nebraska’s defensive front more solidified, the interior is too with Drew and the 6-6, 305-pound Robinson.

“We always joked around that the kid came to Iowa Western with a one-way bus ticket, and he wasn’t going back home,” Terry said. “He’s been one of my favorites, just all around, the off-the-field. He’s a quiet kid and just did everything he’s supposed to. A really good work ethic, and obviously from a football standpoint he performed at a high level for us.”

Drew has come a long way from his middle linebacker days at Raytown. He’s continued to build on what he learned from Terry and Iowa Western. Now he’s filling a need at a place in Nebraska that’s close to home in Kansas City.

“He’s a lunchbox-type of dude where he’s just going to come, bring his lunchbox and go to work,” Terry said. “It’s a good program over there and he’ll be able to come in and transition well and get right to work.”

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