IOWA CITY, Iowa — True freshmen who don’t play often are the most forgotten people at Fortress Kinnick.
They are the redshirts, the players who work on the scout team, dress for home games and are unavailable for interviews.They are in boot camp for Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes army.
Many of them were household names the previous January and February. Fans tracked their quotes, their visits and, of course, their commitments. Then once they signed up, they were out of sight.
But after a season away from the glare of public attention, some of those players return to the spotlight this spring. Perhaps none more than the biggest recruit (literally) in the 2016 class, offensive tackle Alaric Jackson.
At 6-foot-7 and currently 285 pounds, Jackson enters spring workouts as Iowa’s No. 2 left tackle. He spent last season battling Iowa’s first-team defense and did his share of competing. He still has yet to speak as a member of Iowa’s football roster — per Ferentz rules — but his older teammates have praised him. That includes future NFL players.
“He’s probably one of the strongest freshmen that I’ve seen in the program,” said former Iowa starting defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. “He’s definitely athletic for his size. He can move. Really, if it’s next year or a few years from now, he’s going to be doing some good things for Iowa.”
Johnson was a first-team all-Big Ten defensive tackle last year and is a likely top-50 NFL draft pick.
Jackson was committed to playing basketball growing up. He didn’t go out for football until a high school junior when he persuaded his mother to let him play. With his size and frame, he quickly rose on prospect boards. His football potential dwarfed his basketball prospects.
The Hawkeyes jumped on him early and led the recruitment for most of the way. Jackson brushed off a late attempt from Michigan and committed to Iowa during a 2016 signing day ceremony at his Detroit Renaissance High School. Other Big Ten schools offering scholarships include Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. He was a 3-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals.
“I think he’s got really good potential,” Ferentz said in December. “The obvious thing, he’s big, and probably the biggest guy we’ve had, I’m guessing. You know, I always thought (Brandon) Scherff and Carl Davis were the two biggest guys we brought in as freshmen.
“Alaric is pretty big, and raw like most first-year linemen. He really has a great attitude, a really good work ethic.”
Jackson also impressed Ferentz during bowl preparation.
“We’ve seen some things that are really encouraging about him,” Ferentz said. “You know, we’ll let him just keep growing but my sense is he’ll be a really good football player for us.”
Jackson now is in his first full offseason program with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. It’s likely Jackson will weigh more than 300 pounds by spring practice.
But with Jackson’s size and athletic ability, it’s possible he can become Iowa’s next great offensive lineman. He’s in an advantageous spot because Iowa returns starting senior bookends in left tackle Boone Myers and right tackle Ike Boettger. Jackson can keep learning the position and honing his skills without the pressure of stepping in as a starter. That’s about as perfect of a position there is for a redshirt freshman.