IOWA CITY, Iowa – Gavin Williams was heading into his junior season at Southeast Polk High School when he received an interview request.
It came from an 8th grader at school.
“He wanted to know what it was like playing college football and how my experience has been so far,” said Williams, now a sophomore and Iowa’s No. 1 prospect.
That curious 8th grader?
“That request was from me,” said Kadyn Proctor, now a senior, the nation’s top offensive tackle in this class and committed to Iowa.
Proctor sat in the stands Friday night, watched Williams and his Rams teammates play and tried to introduce himself on the field. When his class needed to interview someone for an English project, Proctor knew immediately who his subject would be and made his request.
High school principal Mike Dailey, who played quarterback at Iowa for Hayden Fry, took Proctor to the high school so he could interview Williams.
“I didn’t know (Williams) at that point,” Proctor said. “I was a little nervous. But as I started asking questions, he put me at ease. He answered them truthfully and just told me how he felt. I knew the questions I would ask. I had written them.”
Proctor said he got a good grade on his paper, but can’t remember if it was an “A” or not.
“That was a while ago,” he said. “But we had a good interview.”
Writing that letter was not difficult for Kadyn.
“It’s not difficult to write about football,” he said.
One word from that interview stuck with the future Hawkeye.
“Work,” Kadyn said. “Just the work he did on the field and in the weight room. He held several of the youth records. We would freeze, I would see his records and it kind of intrigued me.”
Proctor said he probably broke some of Gavin’s records in the weight room, but he can’t remember for sure.
“I started growing into my body in 9th grade,” said Proctor, now 6-8 and 335 pounds. “That’s when I started hitting him hard.”
Brad Zelenovich, a longtime assistant coach at Southeast Polk, left in 2013 to become the head coach at Ankeny. He returned to coach the Rams two years later. Proctor was not a secret.
“My oldest son (Joe) is his age, so I’ve known him since youth football,” Zelenovich said. “People were talking. Growing up, he always played basketball with these guys. That’s how we knew who it was. He’s been a freak, physically, since 6th grade. You knew if he stayed healthy and developed, he would be a pro. Top Five Pick.”
Proctor has always stood out.
“I’ve always been the biggest of the bunch, but definitely not always the best,” Kadyn said. “I started being known as that big boy in 7th or 8th grade.”
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Proctor was a two-way starter on Southeast Polk’s sophomore football team as a 9th grader. That winter, with the pandemic just around the corner, Zelenovich had a meeting with Proctor and his family before a basketball game to discuss recruiting.
“This is about to get real,” the coach told them. “And it will be done very quickly indeed.”
The coach said that between December and March, Proctor probably had six to eight offers even though he had never played a snap of high school football.
“It didn’t make sense to me,” Kadyn said. “I never thought it would happen.”
More than 40 offers would eventually come Proctor’s way. As of June 2021, Kadyn had already visited Iowa and Iowa State. Pick three schools, Zelenovich told him, and I’ll take you there for a campus tour. Proctor chose Notre Dame, Ohio State and Alabama.
Proctor took an official visit to Arkansas State, the first school to recruit him, in early June 2022. He also visited Alabama on June 10 and Iowa on June 24, but canceled other scheduled visits and pledged his allegiance to the Hawkeyes.
“It wasn’t too hard for me to cancel my official visits because I was committed,” Proctor said. “My mother said: “You have the opportunity, why not use it? I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I was getting tired of them.”
If you think Proctor got cocky about all the Power Five attention he got, think again.
After Southeast Polk beat West Des Moines’ Dowling in last season’s playoff quarterfinals on Nov. 5, Alabama wanted Proctor to come to Tuscaloosa the next day to watch it play LSU under the lights.
Zelenovich approved the trip and told Proctor he could miss a day or practice. Kadyn didn’t go. He considered that practice and the goal of a state championship more important to him.
Don’t expect to hear Proctor talk about his five-star resume anytime soon.
“I never talk like that or think of myself like that,” he said. “Five stars? That’s not my name. I’m just a normal human. I’m not superhuman. I’m no different than anyone else.”
Iowa City felt like a natural for Proctor, who has been compared to former Hawkeye Tristan Wirfs and wears the same number, 74.
“You can compare me to him,” Kadyn said. “But I want to make a name for myself.”
Proctor, who expects to be a left tackle at Iowa, becomes the second five-star prospect from Southeast Polk to choose the Hawkeyes. Defensive back Xavier Nwankpa did the same last season.
“Those two guys are like my little brothers,” Williams said.
Nwankpa said Williams “was a big influence, but he definitely wanted me and Kadyn to make our own decision.”
Williams and Nwankpa are roommates and Proctor has been a frequent visitor. Like Xavier, Kadyn will enroll at Iowa for the start of spring semester classes in 2023. This will allow him to participate in spring practice.
He’s disappointed he won’t be able to play basketball one more year, or try to better his fifth-place finish in the shot put at state.
“But football is what I’m going to do for years to come, so that’s what I wanted to focus on,” he said.
And who knows? The interviewer can block for the interviewee a day.