Iowa Football

Nate Stanley will be QB1 for Iowa football in 2019

Tight end T.J. Hockenson shows the NFL decision can be an emotional one

IOWA CITY — It’s not a horrible thing when a half dozen of your players find themselves answering questions about making an early leap to the NFL.

That’s been the driver for the Hawkeyes’ pre-Outback Bowl interviews. One Hawkeye answered that question on Monday. Another showed that it’s not an easy decision no matter how much gold might be on the other end.

Quarterback Nate Stanley said he decided not to apply for early entry into the NFL Draft. He also didn’t submit paperwork to the NFL Draft advisory board. He said a conversation with head coach Kirk Ferentz and quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe steered his decision to remain a Hawkeye for 2019.

“They know a lot about the process and in talking with them, I didn’t think there would be much feedback that was different from what they already told me,” said Stanley, who’s thrown 49 TD passes to 19 interceptions in his two seasons as starter. “Just decided to focus on what we have going on here and not worry about that at all.”

Stanley has been realistic about his NFL chances since the beginning of 2018. NFL thoughts for a QB who threw 26 TDs and just six interceptions as a sophomore are going to happen. Of course, these aren’t things you say or ask at the beginning of a season.

Breakdowns with mechanics affected Stanley’s accuracy and in the end, his completion percentage reflected this. Stanley hit 58.6 percent of his passes, a nearly 3-point improvement over his 2017 season (55.8) but still only eighth in the Big Ten. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins led the league with 70.2 percent. Purdue’s David Blough was second at 66.6. Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson checked in at 60.6 percent.

“In my mind before the year started, I knew it would take a pretty special year to have that opportunity,” Stanley said. “Statistically, there were a lot of guys who were better than me. I didn’t have any ... (unrealistic expectations), not after this season.

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“I knew that first and second rounds were probably out of the picture. Coach Ferentz showed some statistics as far as financially and the drop-off from even the first round to the second round. A lot of stuff played into that.”

Stanley will be Iowa’s QB1 in 2019. Will QB1 have a TE1 to rely on?

Earlier this month, junior Noah Fant made the call and will enter the draft. He has signed with an agency and will not participate in the Hawkeyes’ Outback Bowl matchup with Mississippi State.

So, Iowa will be down a first-team all-Big Ten performer against the Bulldogs.

Iowa will have sophomore Mackey Award winner T.J. Hockenson for the Outback. Beyond that? It’s up in the air.

Hockenson had to collect himself a few times during interviews Monday, reflecting how difficult and emotional the decision actually is.

“You can’t let all of this stuff get in the way of who you are and what your principles are,” Hockenson said. “I’m not 100 percent worried about it. I’m just trying to improve everyday.”

In just 2 season, T.J. Hockenson went from "work in progress" to Mackey winner

Hockenson is a business management major. He had three or four more semesters. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder had a conversation with offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Brian Ferentz a few days ago.

“I kind of stopped worrying about it,” Hockenson said. “I stopped talking to people and now I’m really honing in this next game.”

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Brian Ferentz is probably a really great source on this, having coached Pro Bowl tight ends for the New England Patriots.

“If you know Brian, he’s very honest, very honest,” Hockenson said. “He’s a great guy to talk to. He’ll steer you in the right way. I put a lot of trust in him.”

Did that conversation give Hockenson any clarity?

“No,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the whole thing with this process. You have to be smart. You can’t go off one person’s opinion. I’ve been trying to talk with a lot of people. There are pros and cons. That’s not something one person can steer you to. I’ve talked with my mom and dad and a lot of people. There are a lot of different opinions, that’s not something one person can steer.”

Hockenson finished the regular season with 46 catches for 717 yards and six TDs. He’s the first TE to lead the Hawkeyes in receiving since Scott Chandler did it with 47 catches in 2005. Averaging 59.8 receiving yards per game, Hockenson finished seventh in the Big Ten, becoming just the fourth non-wide receiver to finish in the top 10 in yards per game since 2009.

Offensive line coach Tim Polasek tackled a couple of job rumors trailing him around. Polasek was hired at Iowa two years ago from North Dakota State, where he was the offensive coordinator. Waterloo native Chris Klieman is the NDSU coach and he’s been hired to take over at Kansas State.

NDSU hired another Waterloo native, Matt Entz, for the head coaching position.

“It didn’t get very far, specifically the North Dakota State thing,” Polasek said Monday. “This time a year it’s a stressful time for your wife and a lot of people. The speculation kind of comes up. I was fortunate to spend some time there (at NDSU) and that’s where it kind of stopped. I really wasn’t a part of anything much past the rumors and speculation.”

As far as joining Klieman at K-State, Klieman still is coaching NDSU, which is trying to win its seventh FCS title in the last eight years. Polasek said he’s not looking, but will take calls.

“Absolutely nothing,” Polasek said when asked if he’s heard from K-State. Polasek said he has contacted Klieman to be a sounding board on anything.

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“We’re real close friends but I don’t think he’s gotten very far with any of that (hiring a staff). I think he’s focused on recruiting and trying to win another national championship. So, I have not heard from them,” he said.

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

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