IOWA CITY — The Iowa coaching staff always has talked about how it prefers to recruit multi-sport athletes. It encourages kids to do more than play football.
Guys like offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Tyler Linderbaum wrestled and threw in track and field. Safety Kaevon Merriweather was a basketball player with significant ability.
Fellow receiver Nico Ragaini was involved in another sport that’s foreign to this state: lacrosse.
“It kept me in shape over the summer all the time. And it’s really just another team sport, where your communication with your teammates and stuff like that is important,” the redshirt freshman said.
Ragaini was good enough to get college scholarship offers to play lacrosse, which is kind of a mix of football and hockey. He is West Haven (Conn.) Notre Dame High School’s record holder in assists and points.
He readily admits there are correlations to it and football.
“I translate football to lacrosse like when I make a dodge of a defender, I would almost think of it like I was running a post (pattern) pretty much,” Ragaini said. “I’d come here, give him a little head fake, do this (motions) with my left hand like I was running a post route.
“In the slot, I always have to make moves around the linebackers. Find little short spaces. So you can definitely see that on the lacrosse field, too, trying to get by defenders and make shots on the goalie.”
Despite his lacrosse proficiency, Ragaini always had his sights set on playing big-time college football someplace. He went to prep school (Avon Old Farms in his homestate) for a semester to attain that goal.
Iowa became interested in him, and assistant coach Ken O’Keefe had a recruiting ‘in’ since he was a Notre Dame graduate who played, like Ragaini, for the same head coach (Tom Marcucci). The Hawkeyes eventually offered and Ragaini jumped.
“So Coach O’Keefe called me on, like, a Friday,” Ragaini remembered. “Then he ended up calling me that next Sunday, a week later, and told me they were going to offer me. I committed right on the spot, told them I was coming. We hung up the phone, and he called me 10 minutes later, and he was like ‘Well, we’re going to need you to come out here in, like, four days. So the next day, I drove up to my prep school and packed up all my stuff, put it on a plane and came out here.
“Pretty cool story, I guess. I loved it.”
Ragaini did have one reception last season as a true freshman though was able to redshirt because he played in only three games. Working out of the slot, he has three catches for 21 yards this season and has been Iowa’s primary punt returner.
He reminds you some of Nick Easley with his size and skill set. Easley played the slot last season for the Hawkeyes.
“I just really loved lacrosse,” Ragaini said. “I used to play baseball. That’s a story where my dad used to play baseball, he played in college and he always dreamed of me playing college baseball. But in sixth grade, I started getting bored with it, I wanted to play a more active sport, so I quit and joined the lacrosse team.
“I had some offers early on in lacrosse. It’s awful to say, but that was pretty much my backup plan. Once I got this Iowa offer, I knew that this was what I wanted. I took it as soon as I got it ... It ended up working out.”
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