IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa went all-in on true freshmen last fall, putting 10 on the field — the most for the program since 2010.
Among those who played in 2016:
- QB Nathan Stanley, who vaulted into the back-up role behind C.J. Beathard.
- K Keith Duncan, a walk-on from North Carolina who booted the most memorable field goal in Iowa City in at least 8 years.
- CB Manny Rugamba, who came up with a major interception in a 14-13 upset of Michigan.
Other true freshmen filled back-up roles and contributed on special teams last fall. All expect to contend for playing time this coming fall.
Iowa’s incoming class of 22 will include players competing for playing time right away during training camp. Ten true freshmen seeing action is a high number, though (the target usually is set at around five). Considering Iowa’s weakness last year at wide receiver at its double graduation at cornerback, it’s fair to say perimeter freshmen will have a crack at playing early.
Here’s a look at five true freshman who could play right away for the Hawkeyes in 2017:
DE A.J. Epenesa
Epenesa (6-foot-5, 270 pounds) is a 5-star recruit, the Hawkeyes’ first since 2005. He’s a special athlete capable of competing at a high level from the second he arrives on campus. He competed in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and was the defensive MVP of the Polynesian Bowl. Epenesa, who hails from Edwardsville, Ill., has a high motor, physical gifts and a work ethic to match.
Perhaps the best part for both Epenesa and Iowa is the team doesn’t have a major need at defensive end. Iowa returns its top three players at the position, a trio which combined for 22.5 tackles for loss. So if Epenesa sees time or even starts, it’s because he earned it.
P Ryan Gersonde
The Hawkeyes do have a need at punter, and Gersonde has a chance to win the job outright in fall camp. At 6-4, 185, Gersonde is taller than Iowa’s most recent punters, Ron Coluzzi and Dillon Kidd. He averaged 40 yards per punt as a senior at Milwaukee’s Marquette University High School.
Iowa has only one other punter on the roster in incoming sophomore Colten Rastetter. So if Gersonde has a good camp, he could be the team’s punter for four years.
WR Brandon Smith
Iowa’s top two returning receivers caught 23 and 19 passes, respectively, last season, and one of them missed the final eight games. The Hawkeyes could use a playmaker or two (or more) at wide receiver, and Smith has the best Big Ten body of the incoming players.
At 6-3, 205, Smith has already looks the part. As a senior at Lake Cormorant, Miss., Smith caught 80 passes for 1,382 yards and 15 touchdowns. Overall, he caught 205 passes for 3,641 yards and 41 receiving touchdowns. With a frame like that, a pair of all-state selections plus the statistics, it makes you wonder how he left the South. He could be the steal of the class and perhaps the surprise of the Midwest.
CB/WR Trey Creamer
Creamer had the best offensive statistics for Cartersville, a two-time defending state champion in Georgia. He rushed for 711 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 538 yards and 4 scores. Similar to incoming sophomore Rugamba, Creamer has the chance to select which side of the ball he’d like to play.
Also like Rugamba, Creamer (6-0, 175) could compete for time at cornerback right away. Creamer shows good athletic ability and toughness. With both Desmond King and Greg Mabin graduating, it’s likely one of the true freshmen will have a chance to not only play, but earn a starting role at cornerback.
CB Matt Hankins
Along with Creamer, Hankins could step in at cornerback and earn playing time right away. Teams stayed away from Hankins last year, and he earned six pass breakups after posting 13 as a junior. But at 6-1, 175, Hankins has long arms and shows good quickness and range of motion.
Special teams play also could be Hankins’ plans, as with all of the other freshmen.
A look at the true freshmen who played under Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz since 2009:
|2016||10||LB Kristian Welch, QB Nathan Stanley, RB Toks Akinribade, WR Devonte Young, TE Noah Fant, K Keith Duncan, DT Cedric Lattimore, LB Amani Jones, CB Manny Rugamba, S Amani Hooker|
|2015||4||OL James Daniels, WR Jerminic Smith, WR Adrian Falconer, LB Jack Hockaday|
|2014||3||LB Ben Niemann, K Mick Ellis, S Miles Taylor|
|2013||4||CB Desmond King, RB LeShun Daniels, WR Matt VandeBerg, LB Reggie Spearman|
|2012||7||DE Drew Ott, DE Nate Meier, WR Tevaun Smith, CB Sean Draper, P Conner Kornbrath, CB Kevin Buford, RB Greg Garmon|
|2011||10||RB Jordan Canzeri, CB Jordan Lomax, LB Quinton Alston, RB Damon Bullock, LB Marcus Collins, TE Ray Hamilton, S Nico Law, S John Lowdermilk, RB Mikial McCall, WR Marcus Grant|
|2010||9||LB Anthony Hitchens, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, LB Christian Kirksey, LB James Morris, CB B.J. Lowery, S Tanner Miller, WR Don Shumpert, K Mike Meyer, RB Marcus Coker|
|2009||3||WR Keenan Davis, RB Brandon Wegher, CB Micah Hyde|