Amani Hooker and Jack Gervase are Iowa safeties who even like to compete with each other. Hear more:
Mark Emmert, firstname.lastname@example.org
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Amani Hooker quickly corrected a reporter who suggested that he was the playmaker among what appears to be a deep and talented group of Iowa safeties.
“He’s a playmaker, too,” Hooker said of Jake Gervase. “He had the same amount of picks that I had last year.”
Actually, Gervase had three to Hooker’s two, although it was the latter’s pick-six against Ohio State that reverberated the loudest. Still, it was a good sign for Iowa’s defense to hear Hooker speak Tuesday about the spirited competition among four safeties, each aiming for starting roles. It’s unlikely that there will be extensive playing time for them all, barring injury, but it can only bring out the best in whoever does see the most snaps this fall.
Hooker, a junior, missed three games to injury a year ago and still recorded 56 tackles to rank fifth on the team. He followed that up with a sensational showing in Iowa’s open spring practice, stoking hopes that he can be a ball-hawking difference-maker.
Hooker didn’t want to downplay those thoughts when meeting with reporters. But he didn’t want to feed into them, either. His goal is to be an all-American, he said. But he also wants to help the Hawkeyes have an undefeated season.
“I just did what I was supposed to do. I just came out and played and hopefully it carries on to the fall,” Hooker said of his spring showing. “I try to stay humble the whole time. That’s what my parents taught me.”
It’s what his coaches have taught him as well.
“They can’t let guys get big-headed, because that’s when mistakes happen and you start missing assignments,” Hooker said. “So they let you know that you’re not there yet.”
Hooker is listed as the starting strong safety, with Gervase, a senior, holding down the free safety spot. But senior Brandon Snyder is on pace to return from knee surgery and intends to fight for his former starting role. In addition, sophomore Geno Stone showed promise when called upon last year and seems deserving of a larger role.
That’s a position of strength. And experience.
“I know he’s going to do his job no matter what, and I believe he knows I’m going to do my job no matter what,” Hooker said of Gervase. “That’s a good thing to have.”
Replacing Rugamba now a priority
Gervase and Hooker are both on Iowa’s leadership group announced Tuesday. Those 12 players, selected by a team vote, assist the coaches in formulating team policies. (The others are Nick Easley, Parker Hesse, Amani Jones, Aaron Mends, Anthony Nelson, Matt Nelson, Keegan Render, Brady Ross, Nate Stanley and Toren Young).
Gervase and Hooker had diplomatic answers when asked about the departure of cornerback Manny Rugamba. The junior, who started eight games last season, announced Monday he would seek a transfer.
“I was surprised, but that’s all right,” said Hooker, a friend of Rugamba’s. “That happens in college football, so you’ve got to move up, next guy steps in and I feel like we’ve got a good group of guys to do that.”
Gervase also said the Rugamba news was unexpected.
“We’re going to miss him on the back end, but he’s doing what’s best for him,” Gervase said.
“We’re lacking some depth there (at corner), but some young guys are going to need to step up. That’s our program. Next man in.”
Junior Michael Ojemudia and sophomore Matt Hankins are the presumptive starters, although neither has as much game experience as Rugamba takes with him. Redshirt freshman Trey Creamer will get his shot.
After that? It will be an opportunity for upperclassmen such as Gervase and Hooker to test their leadership skills in the back end of the defense.
A year ago, Nick Easley was a walk-on transfer at Iowa. Now, he’s the undisputed leader among the Hawkeye wide receivers. How is he approaching that?
Mark Emmert, email@example.com
For one-time walk-on Easley, what a difference a year makes
Nick Easley was the new guy trying to fit in with the Hawkeyes last year. The wide receiver was a walk-on after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. Pretty good move. Easley ended up being the team’s leading receiver with 51 catches for 530 yards with four touchdowns.
Now, the senior from Newton is the clear leader of a wide receiver group looking to make a much deeper impact this season. It needs to start with him. And Easley said Tuesday he is well aware of that.
Easley finds himself staying after workouts now, talking with his younger teammates in the film room and trying to set the proper tone.
The youngsters have “questions about intricacies of the offense. Routes. Steps. Certain things to run against certain coverages. Just trying to be clear with that,” Easley said.
At the same time, Easley said he’s focusing on being a much more consistent receiver himself in his Hawkeye finale. He still regrets some dropped passes and poor routes that he had in losses at Northwestern and Michigan State, Easley said.
“My leadership role is more clearly defined and, I know more is expected of me. We know that we want to be better than we were last year,” he said.
“I’m hard on myself as any good player should be. You don’t want to beat yourself up, because obviously you’ve got to flush it and get to the next play. I expect more of myself.”
In other words: Watch what sophomores Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith accomplish this fall. It will be, in part, a reflection of what Easley is able to get done this summer.
Iowa’s ‘other’ senior lineman still grinding
Ross Reynolds is listed as the starter at left guard this summer. But that hasn’t changed his approach during workouts.
“I’m still working just as hard, still pushing myself, pushing my teammates,” Reynolds said. “I wouldn’t say (I’ve arrived) at all. Everybody’s the same. We’re all working towards the same goal.”
Last year, Reynolds started one game but split time in many others. It was valuable experience in the middle of an offensive line that has gotten much younger with the departures of James Daniels and Sean Welsh.
Senior Keegan Render is the leader of the group, a natural role for him, Reynolds said.
But Reynolds has been at Render’s side during weightlifting and running sessions this summer.
“We’re seeing each other’s performances on and off the field,” Reynolds said of his friendly competitions with Render. “It’s fun. It’s been like that since we got here.”
It appears that Reynolds’ time is now, and the veteran could go a long way toward solidifying an uncertain spot in Iowa’s offense.