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Two-year wait prepares Iowa receiver Jay Scheel for breakthrough moment

The spring ended on something of a quiet note Saturday for Iowa wide receiver Jay Scheel. He made one catch for a 7-yard gain in the final practice of 15 that took place over the past five weeks.

The Hawkeyes expect more noise from the sophomore in about five months.

Indications exists that it's time for Scheel to shine in the Iowa offense. He is perhaps the most heralded of Iowa’s young wideouts, and there's no doubt that his presence has generated the most buzz. For a year now, fans have awaited a breakout moment from Scheel.

When he caught a long pass from C.J. Beathard at Iowa’s open practice this month in Des Moines, the crowd roared its approval. When receivers coach Bobby Kennedy took questions from the media this spring, Scheel’s progress was the first subject addressed.

Of the fanfare, Scheel said, “it’s all good and well.”

“If you think about that kind of stuff and it’s in your head,” Scheel said, “you’re not really thinking about playing the game.

"I haven’t done anything on the field. [The hype] is kind of coming out of nowhere.”

It's really not, though. Scheel was an ESPN 300 prospect out of Mount Auburn, Iowa, in the Class of 2014 and a state champion quarterback at Union High School.

He ranked behind only offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher, a rising star at Alabama, and Allen Lazard, an established weapon at Iowa State, in the state of Iowa. Pierschbacher and Lazard represented disappointing recruiting misses for Iowa.

Scheel’s coming of age would not erase that pain, but it could provide the Hawkeyes with a reason to hold their heads high even if Pierschbacher and Lazard continue their trend-setting pace.

Scheel's climb was slowed by high school injuries. He missed his senior year on the basketball court and underwent two operations on both knees before redshirting two years ago.

Scheel made a push for playing time last spring, but the experience of Tevaun Smith and Matt VandeBerg relegated Scheel to limited time. He did not catch a pass last season.

“It’s definitely been a long process,” he said last week as Iowa prepared to close spring practice, “but I think it’s been a good process. I’ve learned not only football, but a little bit about myself.

"Not playing has definitely pushed me. I have to come in and work every day. Nothing is ever going to be handed to you.”

Smith’s departure opens a spot for Scheel, but he’s battling a group that includes fellow sophomores Jerminic Smith and Adrian Falconer and speedy junior Jonathan Parker. Additionally, redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Boyle showed his skills Saturday at receiver, a move that might become permanent next fall.

“Every day, you have to bring it,” Scheel said.

Teammates and coaches have noticed his improvement.

“Yeah, you can definitely tell,” backup QB Tyler Wiegers said. “He’s been mixing in with the first team and making really good plays when we give him a shot. I think he’s shown that he’s made the leap this year.”

Kennedy, the receivers coach, said he likes Scheel’s ability to make “wild catches,” as described by offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

“When the ball is high, when it’s behind him, a little out of front,” Kennedy said, “he’s shown the ability to go get it.

“He has good hands. He has good speed. He needs to keep developing his stamina, because to be a wide receiver at this level, you’ve got to be able to run all day. I’d like him to keep developing in that area.”

Scheel said he believes he’s up to the task. In addition to VandeBerg, who's back as a senior after leading Iowa with 65 catches for 703 yards last season, Iowa returns senior Riley McCarron and productive tight end George Kittle.

“Everybody wants to play,” Scheel said. “But all you can do is keep working, keep pushing.”

The moment that he pushes hard enough to break through the surface can't arrive soon enough for Scheel -- and his legion of followers.