SPORTS

Family legacy elevates Kittle, Krieger Coble

Hawkeye tight ends share more than just catches and touchdowns

Iowa tight ends and first cousins Henry Krieger Coble (80) and George Kittle (46) pose for photos during Iowa’s football media day at the Kenyon practice facility in Iowa City on Saturday, August 8, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa tight ends and first cousins Henry Krieger Coble (80) and George Kittle (46) pose for photos during Iowa’s football media day at the Kenyon practice facility in Iowa City on Saturday, August 8, 2015. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Iowa’s tight end tandem of Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle are as different as they are similar.

One stands thick and reserved. The other is wiry and vivacious. Krieger Coble, a senior, has a traditional 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end build. Muscular, tough, physical. A strong end-line blocker with possibly the team’s best hands. Kittle matches Krieger Coble in height, but weighs 15 pounds lighter. He’s as fast as a wide receiver but also stonewalls defenders at the point of attack.

They’ve combined for 37 catches, 442 yards and four scores. Krieger Coble ranks second in team catches with 23 and third with 262 yards. His last nine catches — spanning to Iowa’s win against Illinois — have resulted in first downs. Kittle, a junior, has scored all four tight end touchdowns, including in three consecutive games earlier this season. He hauled in a one-handed strike against Maryland that had national websites using adjectives like “absurd” and “tremendous.”

George Kittle interview

“He’s a big body guy out there and can fly,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said of Kittle. “He’s a fast guy out there, and that’s nice to have. It’s a mismatch when he’s put on linebackers, and we know that.”

Eight different Iowa tight ends under Ferentz have been drafted. Few at Iowa can touch the athletic ability of Dallas Clark or Tony Moeaki. Still, when Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz talks about Krieger Coble, he’s filled with superlatives.

“I don’t know if we’ve had anybody run routes any better than Henry does as a tight end,” Ferentz said. “I wish you guys could see the ones (catches) he makes in practice. It’s unbelievable. He’s a really good football player that is flying so far underneath the radar, it’s amazing.”

What’s all the more amazing is these top-flight tight ends are first cousins and as close as brothers.

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Viven “Bub” Krieger and his wife, Lugene “Lucky” Krieger, raised 10 daughters without a son on their 160-acre century farm outside of Mount Union, Iowa. Krieger Coble’s mother, Amy, and Kittle’s mother, Jan, are sisters.

The massive family produced some incredible athletes over the years. Amy Krieger played softball at Iowa. Jan Krieger Kittle was an All-American in basketball and played softball at Drake.

Then came the Krieger grandchildren. Jess Settles was a first-team all-Big Ten basketball forward at Iowa and ranks ninth in career scoring. Brad Carlson owns Iowa baseball’s career home run record with 45. George’s sister, Emma Krieger Kittle, played volleyball at both Iowa and Oklahoma. Levi and Jesse Ney led Iowa Mennonite School to the 2007 Class 1A state baseball title.

Henry and George are no different. While attending Iowa in the late 1990s, Settles frequently visited his aunt, Amy, who lived in Iowa City. One day he pitched to 6-year-old Henry and quickly realized he was dealing with an athletic prodigy.

“He had a little baseball field cut out in his backyard, and I remember throwing him a pretty hard pitch with a Wiffle ball and he smacked that thing so far over the fence,” Settles recalled. “I thought, ‘I don’t think 6-year-olds are supposed to hit the ball this far.’”

In elementary school, both Henry and George lived in Lockridge, a tiny town located about 10 miles west of Mount Pleasant. They played organized sports but some of their best battles took place in their yards or their basements. Along with their siblings, every day featured Wiffle ball outside or hockey without pads and taped-up walls in the basement.

“Henry always won because he was the biggest,” Kittle said.

Krieger Coble was known as much for his temper as he was for his athletic prowess.

“He was a scary kid,” Kittle said. “He’s much more mild-mannered now than he was.

“He was the biggest kid. If he made contact with the ball, it was a home run. He was the best athlete as a child.”

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Krieger Coble became an all-state athlete in football, baseball and basketball at Mount Pleasant. Settles, who volunteered with Mount Pleasant’s basketball program, said he knew Krieger Coble would become a Division I athlete by middle school.

Henry Krieger Coble touchdown

“Anything that was ever close, low, high, outside, it’s almost like he’s got natural Stickum on his hands,” Settles said. “It’s always been that way, to the backyard to the basketball court to the baseball field. Anything close, it’s an automatic catch regardless of the degree of difficulty.

“He’s always had that motor that you can’t coach. A strong desire to win.”

More than anything, Krieger Coble listened to his older cousin.

“He was a prodigy at Winfield-Mount Union, and I sure as heck wasn’t,” Krieger Coble said.

Kittle was just as athletic, but he bounced around. He moved from the Mount Pleasant area to Mid-Prairie and didn’t stay in one school for a full year until fourth grade. As a sophomore he played football at Iowa City West, basketball at Cedar Falls and then moved to Norman, Okla., where his father and former Iowa football player Bruce Kittle became an assistant. He had few scholarship offers and didn’t talk to Ferentz until national signing day.

“He asked if I wanted to play, and I said, ‘Hey, why not?’ Kittle said. “Let’s do it.”

Unlike Krieger Coble, Kittle was a position tweener before settling in at tight end. He played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore before making his mark this season. No matter how he performs, his personality always shines.

“George has always been the life of the party,” Settles said. “He’s very outgoing and confident. I think this is where he envisioned himself playing on Saturdays and making big plays, scoring touchdowns. I think his body had to catch up with his skill set. He had to be very patient. He was a late bloomer.”

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Camp Krieger is more than an event. Around 100 people make the trek annually to the family’s early-November reunion, which now is held in a log cabin outside of Washington, Iowa. Last year, Kittle and Krieger Coble both attended after an Iowa home game. This year, Iowa played at Indiana and neither could show.

But they became part of the celebration anyway. Kittle scored the game-deciding touchdown. Krieger Coble hauled in two third-down catches that resulted in first downs. The entire family watched and cheered with every big play.

“We put the Indiana game up on a huge projector screen and we just had the most wonderful time watching it,” Settles said. “My grandma, who’s 92, and all the way down to a couple of infants and every age in between.

“We’re having a blast like everyone else in the state. To be Hawkeye fans and undefeated, let alone have two different first cousins and relatives and nephews on the team, it just keeps getting better and better.”

Kittle, Krieger Coble, their siblings and cousins played Wiffle ball every year at Camp Krieger. Kittle calls it “a family legacy.” They’d have a draft and play a dozen or so games over two days. He said he’s disappointed that in recent years the games have reverted to kickball with younger relatives.

And, as cousins often do, sometimes they got into trouble, whether it was at Camp Krieger or their grandparents’ farm.

“My grandparents had a three-wheeled golf cart that we’ve flipped multiple times,” Kittle said. “That was always fun. I was never the driver, but I was always the one either thrown the farthest or landing underneath it.

“One time me and Henry and one of our cousins got in trouble because we threw rocks at my grandfather’s truck and broke all the lights out of it and got grounded for that. Which is interesting because I was never really a bad kid until I hung out with them sometimes.”

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Bub Krieger passed away in 2011. He had a scholarship to play football at Iowa, but got homesick and enrolled at Mount Pleasant’s Iowa Wesleyan College instead. At the end of a sterling college career, he gave up a chance to play with the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals to run the farm on which he was born. Through it all he remained a sports fan, and didn’t miss any of Settles’ Iowa games. Bub’s legacy now lives on with his grandchildren, like Henry and George.

“My wife Joanna said Saturday night, just out of the blue, ‘Grandpa Bub would have sure been proud of the of the boys tonight,” Settles said. “He would have loved this, no doubt about it.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3169; scott.dochterman@thegazette.com

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