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March 13, 2012

Unlikely Florida pipeline flowing for Iowa State

MORE IOWA STATE: CycloneReport.com

Iowa State defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham knows the city of Bradenton, Fla., almost as well as his own hometown.

That demonstrates just how often Burnham visits prep power Manatee High School as part of his recruiting responsibilities. Burnham estimates that over the last three years, he has stopped by Manatee every week that NCAA recruiting regulations allow him to be on the road.

"It's getting to a point that I have a pretty good relationship with most of their staff," Burnham said. "They'll kind of joke with me that they can set up a cot for me when I'm at Manatee. They make fun of me because I'm always there."

Burnham's frequent visits to Manatee are paying major dividends.

Iowa State's roster already includes wide receiver Quenton Bundrage and defensive tackle Quinton Pompey, three-star recruits from 2011 who redshirted last season. Three-star linebacker Darius White joined Iowa State's Manatee contingent by signing with the Cyclones last month.

The Cyclones also have made offers to defensive tackle Derrick Calloway and dual-threat quarterback Cord Sandberg, four-star recruits who will begin their senior years at Manatee this fall.

"It always helps to have a teammate at the same school as you," said Bundrage, who rooms with Pompey. "You feel more comfortable to have someone you know personally who's there. When you have somebody you can trust, it makes a lot of things better."

It isn't all that unusual for an out-of-state program to have multiple players from the same Florida high school.

West Virginia won the Orange Bowl last season with five players from Miramar High, including star quarterback Geno Smith and standout receiver Stedman Bailey. West Virginia also signed three-star receiver Devonte Mathis from Miramar last month.

Rivals.com Freshman All-America quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was one of five Miami Northwestern alums on Louisville's 2011 roster. Western Michigan had six players from North Miami Beach High last season.

But those connections are easier to explain.

[ CycloneReport.com: Iowa State among those after four-star WR Ateman ]

West Virginia has the star power that comes from having won three BCS games over the last seven years. Louisville coach Charlie Strong is well known in the Sunshine State after serving as Florida's defensive coordinator from 2002-09. The Western Michigan-North Miami Beach pipeline may seem tougher to understand on the surface, but Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit is a former Florida high school coach who previously worked as an assistant at Florida and UCF.

Then there's Iowa State.

Head coach Paul Rhoads has never played or coached at a Florida school, yet his staff has established a fruitful relationship with one of the state's most successful prep programs. Manatee finished 11th in the RivalsHigh100 national rankings last year after winning its fifth state championship under coach Joe Kinnan, who owns a career record of 269-68.

Here's a look at the three Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee alums on Iowa State's roster., including a comment on each from the coach who recruited them, Cyclones assistant Shane Burnham.
Height: 6-2
Weight: 184
Class: Redshirt freshman
Recruiting ranking: Three stars
Notable: Bundrage caught 70 passes for 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns as a high school senior. He caught 11 touchdown passes as a junior. He also was a state finalist in the high jump as a junior.
Burnham's Take: "I can't tell you how excited we are about him. The kid is everything we thought he'd be. The guys from Manatee told me from the day he committed, 'Shane, you guys stole one here. You got a great steal.' It's true. We're so excited about Quenton Bundrage, it wouldn't surprise me to see him start the next four years."
Height: 6-3
Weight: 303
Class: Redshirt freshman
Recruiting ranking: Three stars
Notable: Pompey collected 100 tackles and 12 sacks his junior year at Manatee. He followed that up with 62 tackles and 11 sacks his senior year despite suffering a knee injury late in the year. Pompey spent his first year at Iowa State recovering from knee surgery.
Burnham's Take: "He got up here and we had to go in there and scope his knee right before camp even started, right before he even got his career started. He redshirted. So we haven't seen much out of him yet. We'll find out this spring. We love his body type. He's a really enjoyable kid, but we haven't really got an evaluation of him yet."
Height: 6-1
Weight: 230
Class: True freshman
Recruiting ranking: Three stars
Notable: White was a four-year starter at Manatee who collected 341 tackles over his last three seasons. He played the final four games of his senior season with a torn labrum.
Burnham's Take: "We were looking for a true Mike linebacker. We're graduating two starting linebackers next fall, and we wanted to bring someone in to kind of groom . ... He's a big kid. And another thing, for all the success they've had at Manatee, they've only had a handful of guys who've started from their freshman year and been four-year starters. Darius falls into that group. ... He's a captain with all the intangibles they talked about with him - the leadership, the work ethic."
The Cyclones' Manatee recruits generally didn't have Midwest ties and rarely had been in temperatures as frigid as what they encountered on their official visits to Iowa State's Ames campus. Yet Iowa State still has managed to get three players from that school to sign with a cold-weather program that has won more than seven games in a season just once - a 9-3 campaign in 2000 - since 1978.

How has Iowa State pulled it off? It starts with the Burnhams.

Burnham is the son of Cyclones defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who came to Iowa State from USF. He grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., while his father was working on Bobby Bowden's staff at Florida State.

His tasks at Iowa State include recruiting the western part of Florida. He knew the state well enough to realize that would require plenty of trips to Manatee.

"You've already got players there who know how to win," Burnham said. "They know how to work. They've got a great weight program. Joe runs his program like a major college, the way they're organized. When you get a player from out there, what we do here is not going to be a shock. It's not going to shock his system when he comes to a college program, where some kids in a small town or lesser program, they won't understand what they're walking into."

Burnham's connection to Manatee began when he attempted to recruit Ace Sanders, a four-star receiver in the Class of 2010. Sanders is the son of Manatee assistant coach Tracy Sanders, who had played at Florida State when Wally Burnham was there.

Sanders ended up signing with South Carolina, but his recruitment caused Burnham to get quite familiar with Manatee's program. That's how Burnham got to know about Manatee's promising underclassmen, including Bundrage and Pompey.

"Shane was able to connect with our kids," Kinnan said. "He's very professional. He dotted his I's, crossed his T's, hung in there and developed a great rapport with our kids."

Still, getting either player to sign with Iowa State was no sure thing. At times, Iowa State seemed like a long shot.

"Once we got them on a plane [to Iowa State], the rest kind of took care of itself," Burnham said. "But getting them on a plane was hard. Up until late November or early December, I didn't think I'd get a visit from either one of those kids, but we were just persistent."

Bundrage said he had never visited the Midwest before making his official visit, but he soon realized Iowa State was where he wanted to spend the next four to five years. Burnham and the rest of Iowa State's staff won over the three-star recruit who also had received offers from Cincinnati, Louisville and UCF among others.

"They were really honest with me and straightforward about everything, letting me know ahead of time what was going to happen if I came," said Bundrage, who believes that redshirting last season will pay off for him in the long run. "Just knowing they were telling the truth about everything really helped my decision."

Once he committed to Iowa State, Bundrage started to recruit Manatee's other players. But some of them wanted to make their own decisions.

For instance, White said the fact Iowa State already had two Manatee alums on its roster had no impact on his selection process. He ultimately chose Iowa State for the same reasons that brought Bundrage to Ames.

White also established a bond with Bundrage and the other Iowa State coaches. White enjoyed his official visit so much that he stuck to his verbal commitment even after Miami made a late offer.

"It was a comfortable feeling," White said. "They weren't really in my face to make a decision. It was a feeling you get like when you're in a family. They made it really easy."

Burnham recruited so effectively that White and Bundrage didn't even worry much about the weather they'd encounter at Iowa State. The secret apparently is focusing on the Ames summers instead of the winters.

"You can't hide the fact that December through February it's going to be a Midwest winter," Burnham said. "It's going to snow. It's going to get cold. It's going to get windy. The flip side is when you guys are down there in late June, July and August and can't really go outside without breaking a sweat [in Florida], out here it's a lot more temperate. Spring and summer training is a lot more enjoyable [at Iowa State] than it is down there in Florida."

Although Iowa State's three Manatee representatives haven't played a single down yet, they all have bright futures. Iowa State is particularly high on Bundrage, who caught 70 passes for 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior year in high school.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see him start the next four years," Burnham said.

[ Rivals on Yahoo! Sports Radio: Iowa State hoops coach Fred Hoiberg joins David Nuno ]

Pompey recorded 23 sacks over his final two years at Manatee before spending the 2011 season recovering from knee surgery. White was a four-year starter at Manatee who certainly has plenty of toughness. White played the final four games of his senior year with a torn labrum, Kinnan said.

Iowa State would love to add Manatee players next year, but that could prove challenging. Calloway and Sandberg are four-star recruits with a multitude of offers from programs that have warmer weather and stronger traditions.

Then again, they also are already aware of Iowa State's history with Manatee. Iowa State's Manatee alums won't hesitate to talk about all their pleasant experiences on campus, most notably the upset of Oklahoma State last fall that prevented the Cowboys from playing for the national title.

"Iowa State is one of the schools that I've been talking to the longest, so I know those guys a little better than the ones at other schools," Sandberg told CycloneReport.com. "They're definitely still in it."

Even if Calloway and Sandberg don't check out Iowa State, Burnham undoubtedly will continue to visit Manatee on a regular basis. Manatee's tradition of contending for state titles and churning out Division-I prospects on an annual basis figures to continue next season.

"On paper, we look awfully good," Kinnan said.

It might be time to get Burnham one of those cots.

Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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