116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Tyrone Tracy Jr. believes this is his year.
“We still have a lot of good play makers on the field this year,” Tracy said on Tuesday. “But I feel like I’m at the forefront right now, leading the group.”
Competition for the football in a pro-style offense like at Iowa isn’t just between the wide receivers, but also the backs and the tight ends.
Tracy caught 36 passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns during his redshirt freshman year, but had only 14 receptions for 154 yards and one touchdown in 2020.
He wasn’t happy.
“My expectation was to do better than that, and it didn’t go that way,” Tracy said. “My main thing this year is really just leading the whole offense. I'm not really worried about my personal stats.”
The departure of receivers Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette leaves two main slots open and the Hawkeyes have plenty of options. For a school touted as Tight End U, Iowa now has more than twice as many wide receivers (16) as tight ends (7) on its roster and is starting to attract talent like Tracy and newcomers Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson.
That depth has grown under the tutelage of wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland, who joined the staff at Iowa in spring 2016.
“One of my mentors always says, ’You know how to eat elephant? Well, you can’t eat all at one time. It’s one bite at a time,’ so it’s one day at a time,” Copeland said in a news conference on Wednesday. “We have some options now and it is a competition.”
Tracy, Copeland said, has shown excellent leadership and has set his standards high this spring. He also said Tracy’s strength is his versatility.
“He's the only guy to date that can play any of the four spots being our Z, X, Y or F positions in our offense,” Copeland said. “That in itself says a lot about not only his eagerness to learn, but his athletic ability, which we've all seen on display multiple times by now.”
Copeland also spoke highly of senior Max Cooper, who took advantage of an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic after sitting out last season due to injury. Cooper was one of 10 true freshmen to see the field in 2017, then tallied one reception in 2018 and collected one pass and returned five punts in 2019, earning “Comeback Player of the Year” on offense.
“Max Cooper has really stepped up his game,” Copeland said. “He's been a guy in the past that, for whatever reason, hasn't been able to find a lot of traction.”
And while he commends Bruce and Johnson for their dedication to starting college early and learning the offense at a fast pace, Copeland reminded the media there still are sophomores like Desmond Hutson and Jackson Ritter who have made strides to compete. Hutson, primarily a basketball player, saw action in two games during the 2019 season. He was injured in 2020.
Hutson, Copeland noted, fits the physical mold of a top target, standing at 6-foot-3 with hands larger than his own. He’s also added strength in the weight room.
“I think he would be the first one to tell you that he was more comfortable in a basketball court more than he was on a football field to start his college career,” Copeland said. “I knew that going in and we knew that as a staff as we decided to recruit him.”
Iowa also returns more experienced receivers, like senior Charlie Jones and junior Nico Ragaini. Jones established himself as a punt return specialist, topping the Big Ten with 10.5 yards per return, which ranked No. 11 nationally. He also had one punt return touchdown.
Jones transferred from Buffalo, where his team posted a 10-4 record to advance to the Dollar General Bowl in 2018. While there, he had 18 receptions for 395 yards and three touchdowns. As a walk-on at Iowa, Jones earned scholarship status this past December.
Ragaini has more experience. In 2020, he had 18 receptions for 191 yards and one rushing touchdown. In 2019, he led the team with 46 receptions and was third in receiving yards (439). He also was a first-team All-Big Ten punt return specialist.
Both the experience and breadth at wide receiver breed competition at the position, which fans will get to see this Saturday during an open practice at Kinnick Stadium.
Tracy has been waiting to take the reins at a growing competitive position at Iowa under Copeland’s guidance.
“I think Copeland brings a lot to the table, he puts you in a position to succeed,” Tracy said. “I’m next basically, that’s my mindset right now.”
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