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IOWA CITY — Not a lot of players on Iowa’s football roster have seen a down on the field at tight end.
Luke Lachey. Red-shirted. Josiah Miamen. Red-shirted. Elijah Yelverton. Red-shirted. Jackson Frerichs. Red-shirted walk-on in 2019, did not see game action in 2020. Tommy Kujawa, redshirted walk-on in 2017, has not seen game action.
There’s senior Bryce Schulte, a red-shirted walk-on in 2017 who saw game action in 2018 and 2020.
Then there’s junior Sam LaPorta, Iowa’s No. 1 this year. He’s taking the reigns from Shaun Beyer, and the many who have come before him. Last season, he started five games with 27 receptions for 271 yards and one touchdown.
“This is actually my first spring ball,” LaPorta said. “I have a great appreciation for the older guys that came before me that helped me out. I'm trying to do that with the younger guys in the room, too, because I've sort of had that on field experience.”
LaPorta said this spring has been a time of reflection on his freshman year and last season. With the additional reps that come with spring ball, he’s able to see the game in slower motion, which allows for clarity.
“I look back and think: I've had that look like three or four times now in spring ball and I'm not messing that up anymore the way that I messed that up in the season,” LaPorta said.
The uncertainty at the position provides opportunity for competition. While he embraces his role as the No. 1 tight end, he realizes it could change each day. That fight is fueled by the hungry youth on the team.
Similarly, the defensive line is going through the same process. It’s losing three veterans, and players like Noah Shannon and John Waggoner have seen limited snaps.
But when it comes to positions on the line, constantly facing off against second-team all-Big Ten junior center Tyler Linderbaum or senior honorable mention all-Big Ten guard Kyler Schott helps players like Shannon raise his level of play.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to see very many centers like Tyler in the Big Ten,” Shannon said. “I wake up in the morning it almost feels like a game day for me, being able to go up against Linderbaum every day.”
Shannon also emphasized reflection through daily “points of emphasis sheets,” where defensive line coach Kelvin Bell will put a daily inspirational quote along with a list of individual things players need to work on. He’ll also add at the end of the day what he wants to work on.
“Today, for example, my thing was I really wanted to focus on was separation and vision,” Shannon said. “Just going through each read making sure I was, as long as I could be and putting my eyes on my gap and my secondary guy, making sure I have vision on the ball carrier.”
Having an open spring practice also helped, especially the younger players, because it more closely mimics a game-day atmosphere that could return this fall.
“For the D-linemen, hearing those checks and calls from the linebackers and safeties with fans on the stands and extra noise, that’s not usually there, I felt like that was very nice,” Shannon said.
The next man up mentality is something ingrained into every player’s mind, so while the experience level at either position may not be deep, players know what’s expected.
“I'm just the guy in the jersey right now and our motto is leave the jersey in a better place,” LaPorta said.
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