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TAMPA, Fla. — The math added up quickly for Nick Easley. At one point during the Outback Bowl run-up, he realized that, whoa, he was up to 95 receptions in just two seasons.
Asked if he wanted 100, the former walk-on from Newton who might've been a Division-II kicker if Iowa didn't knock on the door with a walk-on offer, Easley gave a, you know, maybe.
And then he thought for a second. Yeah, of course 100 catches would be a cool milestone to hit.
Catch No. 100 came with 1:55 left in the third quarter of Tuesday's Outback Bowl. It gets better. Catch No. 100 was an 8-yard TD from Nate Stanley. Wait for it. Oh yeah, it gave the Hawkeyes the winning points in their 27-22 victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday at Raymond James Stadium.
'Honestly, I had no idea,' said Easley, just after he was asked to pose with the Outback Bowl MVP trophy. 'When I'm out there, I'm pretty unaware of how many yards. When someone told me I had a hundred yards, honestly, I had no idea.'
'Honestly' is a pretty great way to describe Easley's 26-game career as a Hawkeye.
On Tuesday, he got the Hawkeyes out of the blocks, taking advantage of a blown coverage and running wide open for a 75-yard TD from quarterback Nate Stanley. Easley finished with eight catches for 104 yards and two TDs, career highs for receptions and yards.
Iowa likely will have two tight ends in the NFL this April, with Noah Fant already headed there and T.J. Hockenson possibly headed their with his Mackey Award.
But really, 103 receptions in two seasons. Where would Iowa's passing game have been without Easley's steady production?
You don't have to answer that.
'The attitude he came into Iowa football with, just kind of behind the 8 ball as far as being a walk-on,' said Stanley, whose three TD passes raised his season total to 26, second most in Iowa history. 'Will I get a shot to play right away? He made the most out of every single opportunity that he had.'
Mississippi State sure knew all about Hockenson, especially around the goal line. The all-American finally broke free for three receptions in the fourth quarter, but it was Easley and wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette who filled in the gap that Fant left with his early departure.
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Whatever makes Easley such a valuable member of the offense has trickled down to Smith-Marsette and wide receiver Brandon Smith.
'Nick is a hard worker,' Smith-Marsette said. 'He's comes up in clutch moments when you need him. He's that type of guy. He's going to put 100 percent effort into every snap.'
Easley caught Hockenson's eye during his first summer workouts in 2017.
'I thought, yeah, this guy can play for us,' Hockenson said. 'He's fast, he can make great moves at the line, so you knew right away when he came in he was going to be an impactful player. He's done a lot for us. He leads and shows you what you need to do day in and day out.'
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz waited in the wings while Easley conducted his interview on the postgame stage. There was a question to Easley on what it was like to play for Ferentz.
The correct tense is 'was.' Ferentz teared up at this part. Easley choked up.
'Yeah, you know, coach, with him, it's what you see is what you get,' Easley said. 'Just get emotional talking about it. I'm just so thankful for him and the opportunity that him and his staff have given me.'
Honestly, that was a great career.
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