116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Sam LaPorta certainly had a productive 2021 season.
He led the Hawkeyes — and all Big Ten tight ends — in receptions and receiving yards. He had 299 yards after the catch and 206 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus.
The NFL Draft could’ve been a tempting opportunity for someone in LaPorta’s situation, but instead the soon-to-be-senior opted to stay in Iowa City for at least one more year.
“I’m so glad every day I came back and made that decision,” LaPorta said after Iowa’s open spring practice.
He received some feedback and “saw what it was looking like for me” before choosing to return to Iowa City Jan. 12.
“I had to think about the opportunity presented for my family as well, but being able to come back and finish up my degree and play my senior year with my boys — I don’t know how I could have passed that up,” LaPorta said.
LaPorta’s expected to be one of the top tight ends in the country.
Pro Football Focus ranked LaPorta as the fifth-best tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft class, with three of the four players ahead of him coming from the SEC, and the 90th overall prospect.
Sporting News slotted him 43rd in the 2023 draft class and second among tight ends.
“I hope it’s an amazing year for myself and my teammates,” LaPorta said. “We all have high expectations and high goals set for ourselves, and we’re really excited for the season.”
He also recognizes the need for improvement on the offense, particularly after a spring open practice that saw mixed results from the unit.
“The tempo was good, but we need to execute a little bit better on a couple of things,” LaPorta said.
At an individual level, LaPorta has been working on “my first step, in the run game especially.”
LaPorta’s much-anticipated senior year will involve a new position coach. Abdul Hodge joined Iowa’s staff in March as tight ends coach after offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz moved from tight ends to quarterbacks.
LaPorta sees qualities in Hodge that “we can all strive to do a little bit more.”
“He’s analyzing things all the time, picking my brain,” LaPorta said. “I pick his brain as well. He’s a guy that sets his ego aside. He never lets his pride get in the way. If he needs to ask a question … he’s willing to do that.”
Hodge, who played and coached at linebacker, has brought some of his defensive expertise to the offense.
“As an older guy, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the offense and the scheme that we’re trying to run,” LaPorta said, “so getting input from him as to what the defense is trying to do to stop us I think has helped me understand our defense.”
At the same time, LaPorta has plenty of respect from Hodge.
“The transition that I think he’s going to take now is a transition to be also a great leader on our team,” Hodge said in March. “He’s got his head down. He’s working on a consistent basis to get better. He’s really conscious of little details.”
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