OSKALOOSA, Ia. — When the Oskaloosa football team huddles at the end of practice, quarterback Cole Henry’s head towers above the crowd like a basketball hoop rising above a playground.
That’s appropriate for a football player who stands 6 feet, 10 inches. That’s taller than any NFL quarterback, including former Iowa Hawkeye Dan McGwire, who is the tallest quarterback in NFL history at 6-8.
To a high school team preparing for Friday’s first round of the state football playoffs — 96 programs are beginning their quest for championships — the main goal is winning a title.
Henry — a senior who decided in August that he plans to play basketball, not football, at Northern Iowa — has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and helped his team to an 8-1 record this fall. Oskaloosa will host mighty Harlan (7-2) at 7 p.m.
“I couldn’t let my brothers down,” Henry said. “There are lots of memories and I’m happy I stuck it out.”
He’s a key player on a team full of inspiring stories. Center Hunter Else was talked into coming out for football after he considered quitting as a sophomore. Running back Casey Hill has taken a bruising but leads Class 3A with 114 points scored. Cole Kraber, a linebacker and team captain, is a leader for a defense that made an impressive turnaround after giving up 51 points in a season-opening loss.
But back to the big passer.
Henry has to duck his head when he runs out of the locker room onto the field. He and Else have repeated snapping drills thousands of times and the players have found a way to communicate although their heights span from 5-3 to nearly 7 feet.
For a team with big goals, a 6-10 quarterback is a perfect fit.
College basketball or football? Cole Henry had a decision to make
Henry — whose dad, John, is the men’s basketball coach at William Penn in Oskaloosa — played basketball since he could walk. But football was always an important sport, too.
After selecting basketball as his future path, he decided to continue competing on the gridiron with the Indians this fall.
“Football’s always been my second love, but it’s a close one,” Henry said. “It’s sad to see the Friday night lights end, but I’ve been blessed.”
Taller quarterbacks aren’t exactly rare these days. Brock Osweiler of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins is 6-7. Iowa’s Nate Stanley stands 6-4. Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt, who opened the season as the Cyclone starter, is listed as 6-5.
Iowa high school quarterbacks that are among the state’s passing leaders include 6-4 Bryce Osterberger of Dubuque Wahlert (2,127 yards), 6-4 Jeff Carlson of Monticello (2,092) and 6-4 Daniel Wright of Sergeant Bluff-Luton (1,680).
A number of former tall quarterbacks became best known as basketball players: Chris Street of Indianola (listed as 6-8) and Fred Hoiberg of Ames (6-4).
But 6-10? Unheard of in Iowa.
Henry isn’t a novelty signal caller. He’s not rail thin and he moves well. He’s athletic, playing part-time roles as a punter, defensive back and even as a center.
“I tell people, ‘He’s not a gazelle, he’s a giraffe,'” Oskaloosa coach Jake Jenkins said.