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IOWA CITY — Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker isn’t exactly one to mince words when coaching his players.
“You critique, critique, critique, and sometimes everybody construes that as being negative, but really what we’re trying to do is make you a better football player,” Parker said at Friday’s media day.
That’s a welcomed approach for Xavier Nwankpa, the former five-star safety who chose the Iowa football program over Notre Dame and Ohio State, now that he’s in a Hawkeye uniform.
“I’m just trying to learn everything I can,” Nwankpa said Friday.
Parker’s attention to detail in film sessions “helps boost your confidence and just your understanding of everything,” Nwankpa said.
“He’s really a genius,” Nwankpa said. “Every little mistake you’ll make, he’ll critique it. He wants everything to be perfect, so we can be the best defense we can be.”
At the same time, teammates have taken notice of Nwankpa’s desire to learn.
“X asks me all the time, ‘Can we watch film?’” fellow safety Kaevon Merriweather said at Big Ten Media Days. “We’ve been on the board and talked about little things. ‘How do you call this?’”
That approach has helped Nwankpa learn quickly since stepping foot on campus in January, especially in film sessions with Parker.
“You’ll learn a lot every day,” Nwankpa said. “You want to get 1 percent better, but you get 5 percent better every time you meet with him.”
The results of Nwankpa improving 5 percent at a time since the spring already were evident to head coach Kirk Ferentz after the 10th practice of fall camp.
“My guess is we’ll start to see him gain ground with each and every day,” Ferentz said. “He’s a good football player, great young guy.”
Nwankpa gave fans a taste of what he’s capable of in Saturday’s Kids Day open practice. He had a deflection that led to an unofficial pick-6 — it was technically whistled dead before Karson Sharar could reach the end zone — and an interception himself.
It helps that Nwankpa has had since January to learn as an early enrollee instead of arriving in June.
“All the guys that got here in January — it’s coming at them fast in the spring,” Ferentz said. “And it’s a credit to them — they do a good job — but still it’s like a different language. So now you have all summer to digest things.”
Nwankpa’s focus on learning has made life a little easier for Parker.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Parker said.
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