Iowa Football

Reality, schmeality: This is the time for Hawkeyes to chase the NFL dream

If it's not the NFL, maybe it's law school or a job at a livestock trucking company, but it's going to be life

Iowa tight end T J Hockenson gets measured during the 2019 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa tight end T J Hockenson gets measured during the 2019 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — It’s a simple question, but this is the NFL and potential first-10 draft picks don’t want to look too eager.

Noah Fant has been invited to the NFL Draft April 25 in Nashville, Tenn. T.J. Hockenson doesn’t know yet if he wants to sit in a big room and be on camera or if he wants to check it all out from his home in Chariton.

“We’re told not to say anything yet,” Fant said after the Hawkeyes pro day workout on Monday. “I’ve gotten an invite. I haven’t accepted or denied it yet. So, we’ll see.”

The Fants and Hockensons probably wouldn’t fit at the same table, and, no, it’s not because the former Iowa tight ends are competing to become the first tight end picked in the draft. These are proud families and there would be too many from either side to fit at one table.

“We’ll see, I’m not sure,” Hockenson said on going to the draft. “I’m not into the glam and the glory. It’s definitely a cool experience. I’ve heard it’s nothing but first class, that’ll go into the decision.”

NFL mock drafts vary, but most have both going in the first round and usually between No. 10 to 25. What are the stakes? The website spotrac.com, which closely tracks NFL salaries, projects an $11.5 million signing bonus for pick No. 10 in this year’s draft. At No. 20, the signing bonus number is $7.1 million.

So, it’s not like there are no stakes here.

“I’m not in it for the money,” Hockenson said. “I’m in it to see how far I can go, see what my work ethic does at the next level, see what my attitude, being a teammate, how far that gets me and how that might help take the team I go to.”

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None of the four Iowa players who participated in the NFL combine in late February — defensive end Anthony Nelson and safety Amani Hooker being the other two — went through testing Monday at the Hansen Center. Fourteen Hawkeyes went through drills, which also included running routes and catching passes (former Iowa and Eastern Michigan QB Tyler Wiegers was the quarterback).

The NFL dream is alive in this group. This is not a time to worry about what’s realistic and what’s unreal.

On Monday, former Iowa defensive lineman Parker Hesse worked out at defensive end, fullback and tight end. He basically held his own “Punt, Pass and Kick.”

Fullback Austin Kelly showed NFL scouts that a 5-11, 245-pounder can hit 39 1/2 inches in the vertical jump.

The dream?

“Just looking for one opportunity, that’s all I need, that’s all I’m looking for,” Kelly said. “That’s all any of us can look for at this point.”

And if it doesn’t hit?

‘My plan is to go to law school,” Kelly said. “I’ve applied to some schools. If this doesn’t work, I hope to be either school next fall or take a year off and go from there.”

Wide receiver Nick Easley took a little more time coming out of the locker room for interviews. 1) He was the holder for kicker Miguel Recinos, who booted about a dozen field goals for NFL scouts (31 of the 32 NFL teams RSPV’d, but Iowa officials believe all 32 showed up Monday). And 2) Easley’s 6.5-second time in the three-cone drill would’ve been second overall at the combine (Michigan corner David Long had a 6.45).

After a productive two-year career with the Hawkeyes coming out of Iowa Western Community College, Easley readily admits he’s on the Riley McCarron path to the NFL. McCarron also was a Hawkeye walk-on and highly productive slot receiver. He ran a sub 4.4-second 40 at Iowa’s pro day in 2017 and still is hanging with the Patriots, actually making more than $271,000 in two NFL seasons.

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“He’s someone I look up to,” Easley said about McCarron. “He was on a path that I’ve kind of already followed and I hope to continue.”

Easley did meet with teams following testing and has a meeting with the Buffalo Bills.

Safety Jake Gervase was happy with his pro day results. He also reminded everyone that, absolutely, the NFL is the goal, but there’s also the Alliance of American Football. It’s the football you’re seeing on TV right now with eight teams in the south and west.

This is the rail these guys are skating. They’ve built their bodies for the game. They’ve got to pursue the dream until they know it’s not going to work.

Gervase wants to travel. He also just got engaged and his fiancee is a teacher in Iowa City.

“Once football is over for good and I get a big-boy job and start working that 9-5, my plan is to travel a little bit,” Gervase said. “Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. Hopefully, I can continue to play football a little bit.”

Wide receiver Kyle Groeneweg also is on the McCarron plan. His 4.43-second 40 was the best coming out of Iowa’s pro day. If football doesn’t work, he will look for a spot in his parent’s business, BGL Livestock Trucking.

“I’m hoping this opened some eyes,” Groeneweg said. “I don’t think people know about the kind of speed I have to offer. I’m hoping after today, things take off from there.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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