IOWA CITY, Iowa – There was a time when Iowa Football worked hard to preserve redshirts for true freshmen. This practice has dwindled over the years with student-athletes leaving earlier for the NFL and transfer portal.
Leaving the 2020 Covid-19 season, the Hawkeyes have averaged five true freshmen without redshirts over the past five years. That’s heavily weighted by ’17, when the number was 10.
A rule instituted before ’18 allows players to see action in four or fewer games while redshirting. Iowa is making good use of the legislation with a total of 10 student-athletes avoiding redshirts in the three Covid-free seasons. He averaged four over the last two full seasons (’19 and ’21).
Three years ago, Jack Campbell, Sam LaPorta, Dane Belton and Tyler Goodson all had their redshirts pulled. Keagan Johnson, Arland Bruce IV, Connor Colby and Cooper DeJean saw action in more than four games last fall in their first seasons on campus.
Maybe a pattern is forming. It’s most likely fluid, based on a combination of factors. And they can certainly change over the course of a season.
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With that in mind, here are five guys in the current class most likely to play in more than four games in ’22:
5. Addison Ostrenga, TE – In other years, the Wisconsin product would likely be higher on this list based on ability. However, the Hawkeyes are deep at that position with All-American prospect Sam LaPorta leading the way for rising talent Luke Lachey. Ostrenga finds himself competing with Lafayette graduate transfer Steve Stilianos and Johnny Pascuzzi, who has received plenty of praise from coaches and teammates this offseason. If Ostrenga clearly separates from the group, he will play. If not, keeping his redshirt might be the wisest course.
4. Drew Stevens, K – The rookie from South Carolina is locked in tough competition with sophomore Aaron Blom. Based on the duo’s two public performances, one in the spring and the other at Kids Day on Aug. 13, it’s too close to call. Special teams coordinator Levar Woods said earlier this month at media day that it’s possible both kickers could play. Maybe one of them starts and handles long field goals, and the other takes the short 3-pointers and extra points. Time will tell how he shakes out, but right now, Stevens has a good chance of not redshirting.
3. Jacob Bostick, WR – It’s the position group of greatest concern heading into the Sept. 3 opener against South Dakota State. Injuries are plaguing the position right now after attrition hit it in the offseason. None of this should take away from Bostick’s ability to contribute. He should improve his skills as a deep threat and long target. He showed reliability in a small sample size at Kids Day, running crisp routes and hanging onto the ball in traffic. If healthy, Johnson, Bruce IV and Nico Ragaini shape up as the top 3 at the position. After that, it’s wide open, so to speak.
2. Aaron Graves, DL – Physically, Graves is a marvel in the mold of Tristan Wirfs and AJ Epenesa, who were highly touted true freshmen at Iowa who avoided redshirting before being drafted into the NFL after three seasons on campus Graves joins a deep, talented and experienced defensive line, but there’s a good chance he’ll pass up some veterans. He is unusually praised by the coaches and his performance on Children’s Day shows he belongs. It’s hard to say how much he’ll play, but barring injury, Graves will likely be in the defensive tackle rotation early on with the possibility of increased reps depending on how he does.
1. Xavier Nwankpa, S – The crown jewel of the class in terms of the recruiting rankings, Nwankpa is helped by being humble. He came into January ready to work and made great strides over the past eight months, positioning him to play right away. He is competing at free safety, where junior Quinn Schulte, a former assistant, is listed as the starter. The veteran has a clear advantage in system knowledge, which is huge at the position. The newcomer, however, is regaining ground in this area, and looks the part physically and from an athletic point of view. I suspect Nwankpa will play special teams from the jump and could step in to represent on defense depending on his growth and development.