Coming out of Warren Township High School, Connor Iwema had very few choices if he wanted to keep playing football.
"Leaving high school, I had no offers except for one D3 school," the senior wide receiver said as Southern Illinois opened its fall camp. "The reason I didn't have many looks was that I was slow and was really raw as an athlete."
Rather than take the Division-III offer, the Wadsworth resident decided to walk-on at SIU, then under head coach Dale Lennon.
"I took my shot and came here," he said. "It's been hard work that has gotten me to this point."
That hard work meant time in the weight room as well as a willingness to get better each year.
"Working with strength coaches and working with everybody else I developed my speed and developed my body control," Iwema said. "That's translated into route running and being able to get open. That's what I'm most proud of, where I came from my senior year (of high school) to now.
"In my own mind I thought I was pretty good (back in high school), but seeing where I'm at now is pretty incredible to me. It's all just from working hard and focusing on things I was deficient in."
After redshirting his first year in Carbondale, Iwema played in 11 games as a freshman. He showed promise with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown.
His sophomore season brought more promise. He emerged as a starter and hauled in three catches in a game against Indiana of the Big Ten Conference. Unfortunately, an injury that followed ended his year early.
Things changed for the positive when Iwema bounced back last fall as a key cog in first-year SIU head coach Nick Hill's pass-oriented offense. The 6-foot, 208-pounder caught 44 passes for 557 yards and five touchdowns. He had his two biggest games statistically against two of SIU's toughest opponents: 103 yards at FBS foe Florida Atlantic and 107 yards vs. FCS power South Dakota State.
Now, Iwema enters his final season as the Salukis' top returning receiver.
"I was pretty consistent (last year), but there are always things you get better at as things go on such as reading coverages and keys," said the player who enters 2017 as an honorable mention preseason all-conference receiver.
Iwema also realizes that with age and experience comes more responsibility.
"I'm approaching (this season) as I have to be a leader and I have to fill the role of those guys (that graduated)," Iwema said. "They had so much knowledge and they spread it to me when I was younger. Now it's my turn to do my part and spread it to the younger guys, even the ones who play positions other than receiver."