116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — On one side was a 5-foot-10 wide receiver in a black and gold uniform. On the other side was a 6-foot defensive back in a white and orange uniform.
They collided at the 1-yard line on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.
The latter didn’t stand much of a chance. That’s because the former was Iowa wide receiver Arland Bruce IV.
Bruce needed 1 more yard for a touchdown on the jet sweep play, but Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon stood in the way. So Bruce lowered his shoulder and plowed through Witherspoon until he was straddled on top of him in the end zone.
“Maybe he could have went to the outside, but he wanted to make a statement and run through someone's face,” wide receiver Charlie Jones said.
One can learn a lot from how Bruce approached that jet sweep.
“That play describes A.B. perfectly,” fellow wide receiver Keagan Johnson said. “Nowhere else to go, so he’s going to go through.”
Just like his statement-making collision, he’s been going right through a crowded wide receiver room to contribute as a true freshman.
After a quiet start to his 2021 season — he had one catch in Iowa’s first four games — Bruce has been one of Iowa’s top receivers.
Only two Iowa players — tight end Sam LaPorta and running back Tyler Goodson, both upperclassmen — have more catches in October and November than Bruce.
“I think he grew more than he even knew he grew,” Johnson said.
In an Illinois game where drops plagued much of the receiving corps, Bruce was the team leader with two catches on two targets and 45 receiving yards.
One of the catches was an improbable, almost-physics-defying 28-yard catch along the sideline at the end of the first quarter. Bruce, of course, had the “run-through-someone’s-face” rushing touchdown, too.
Bruce and new starting quarterback Alex Padilla have “great chemistry,” Padilla said. Bruce, Johnson and Padilla all worked on the second team together in spring practices.
“You kind of know what each other is thinking,” Padilla said.
Growing up in Olathe, Kan., a Kansas City suburb with a bigger population than Cedar Rapids, he played EA Sports’ NCAA Football video games.
“Every kid that has NCAA (Football), they play ‘Road to Glory,’” Bruce said last month, referencing a game mode where you create your own college athlete. “That’s basically what I’m doing right now.”
His fictional collegiate athlete was a running back.
Bruce has been getting to fulfill his dream as a quasi-running back occasionally, too.
His rushing touchdown through Witherspoon was one of six carries in 2021. Some of the other five have given the Hawkeyes an extra spark offensively.
“You can’t match his electricity,” Padilla said.
On the same drive as his highlight-reel-worthy touchdown run, he had a 13-yard run that moved Iowa into Illinois territory.
Bruce’s first career rushing attempt in September went for 13 yards against a Colorado State defense that mostly stifled the run.
He’s enjoying the running plays offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has set up for him.
“I love jet sweeps,” Bruce said. “I get open space. I’ve got guys like Monte Pottebaum. Who wouldn’t want to run behind him?”
Bruce has been working on special teams, too. He “has done a good job for us” as a gunner, special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said.
LaPorta said Bruce’s versatility helps him stand out.
“I feel like every single guy has their own little niche that I'm like, ‘Wow, they’re really good at that,’” LaPorta said. “Arland, he’s extremely versatile. He’s quick. He’s shifty. He’s hard to freaking tackle, I’ll tell you that. He’s always bouncing off tackles.”
Jones is confident Bruce, a “tough kid,” is “just going to keep getting better.”
His bigger-than-5-foot-10 stature goes beyond just football.
Johnson, who is also Bruce’s roommate, said on Tuesday he expects Bruce to enjoy the most Thanksgiving food out of any of the wide receivers.
“He’s little, but he’s mighty,” Johnson said.
Illinois’ Witherspoon found that out the hard.
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