IOWA CITY, Iowa – There was a time when Iowa Football worked hard to preserve redshirts for true freshmen. This practice has faded over the years with student-athletes leaving early for the NFL and the transfer portal.
Discounting the 2020 Covid-19 season, the Hawkeyes have averaged five true freshmen skipping redshirts over the past five years. This is heavily weighted from ’17, when the number was 10.
A rule in place prior to ’18 allows players to see action in four games or less in a redshirt. Iowa is making good use of the legislation with 10 total student-athletes avoiding redshirts in the three non-Covid seasons. It’s averaged four over the last two full seasons (’19 and ’21).
Three years ago, Jack Campbell, Sam LaPorta, Dane Belton and Tyler Goodson all redshirted. Keagan Johnson, Arland Bruce IV, Connor Colby and Cooper DeJean saw action in more than four games last fall during their first seasons on campus.
Perhaps a pattern is forming. More likely, it’s 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 who are most likely to play in more than four games in ’22:
5. Addison Ostrenga, TE – In other years, the Wisconsin product would probably be higher on this list based on ability. However, the Hawkeyes are deep at the 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 himself from the group, he will play. If not, keeping his redshirt might be the wisest course.
4. Drew Stevens, K- The freshman from South Carolina is locked in a tough competition with sophomore Aaron Blom. Based on the duo’s two public appearances, one in the spring and the other on Children’s Day on August 13, it’s too close to call. Special teams coordinator Levar Woods said earlier this month at media day that it’s possible both linebackers could play. Maybe one of them starts and makes long field goals, and the other takes short 3-pointers and extra points. Time will tell how it shakes out, but for now, Stevens has a good chance of not redshirting.
3. Jacob Bostick, WR – It’s the position group that draws the most concern in the Sept. 3 opener against South Dakota State. Injuries are impacting the position now as injury struck him during the offseason. None of this should take away from Bostick’s ability to contribute. It should improve his skills as a deep threat and long target. He showed reliability in a small sample size on Children’s Day, running clear routes and hanging onto the ball in traffic. If healthy, Johnson, Bruce IV and Nico Ragaini form the Top 3 at the position. After that, it’s wide open, so to speak.
2. Aaron Graves, DL – Physically, Graves is a prodigy in the mold of Tristan Wirfs and AJ Epenesa, who were true freshmen at Iowa who avoided redshirting before being drafted to the NFL after three seasons on campus. Graves is joining a deep, talented and experienced defensive line, but there’s a good chance he’ll be passed over for some veterans. The coaches are unusually complimentary 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 starting defensive rotation with a chance to increase reps depending on how he performs.
1. Xavier Nwankpa, S – The crown jewel of the class in terms of recruiting rankings, Nwankpa is helped by being humble. He arrived in January ready to go and has made strides over the past eight months, positioning him to play right away. He is competing at free safety, where junior Quinn Schulte, a former tight end, is listed as the starter. The veteran has a distinct advantage in system knowledge, which is huge at the position. However, the newcomer is making up ground in that area and looks the part physically and athletically. I suspect Nwankpa will play special teams from the jump and could work in reps on defense depending on his growth and development.