Iowa Football

Iowa football Quick Slants: T.J. Hockenson a Mackey Award finalist

Injury update, Iowa ties and more

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) runs into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown reception during the second quarter of their college football game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) runs into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown reception during the second quarter of their college football game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa defensive lineman Matt Nelson said he hasn’t gotten any grief from his younger brother, Kevin ... yet. Kevin Nelson was part of a Cedar Rapids Xavier football team that won its second straight Class 3A state championship last week.

Kevin Nelson didn’t play much for Xavier, making one catch for 4 yards. But he has one more state title than his brother, who was part of some excellent Saints teams that couldn’t quite get over the hump.

“Unfortunately, he’s got one up on me,” Matt Nelson said. “He hasn’t brought it up, yet, though. Hopefully he doesn’t for awhile, because I haven’t thought of a good comeback, yet.”

Nelson credited Xavier Coach Duane Schulte for a large part of his development. He initially was headed toward a college basketball career until excelling as a senior football player.

Iowa liked his big 6-foot-8 frame.

“Even going to camps as a young guy, 8, 9, 10 years old, (Schulte) would be like ‘Hey, you’re going to be a big kid. You don’t just have to be a basketball player, you can be a football player, too.’” Nelson said. “He really instilled toughness and the gritty mentality that you can build upon to become a good football player.

“He reminds me a lot of Coach (Kirk) Ferentz. It really wasn’t a big transition for me coaching wise. He’s going to be hard on you, but then he’ll be like ‘Hey, good job on this play.’ He’s not going to just tear you down, he’s going to build you back up as well.”

John Mackey talk

Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson said he was humbled to be named one of three finalists for the 2018 John Mackey Award. The award goes to the most outstanding tight end in the country.

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The other finalists are Albert Okwuegbunam of Missouri and Kaden Smith of Stanford. Hockenson leads Iowa with 41 receptions and 663 receiving yards, the most by a Hawkeye tight end since Dallas Clark (43 catches, 742 yards) in 2002.

Clark won the Mackey that season.

“It’s crazy to be mentioned with the great tight ends in the country,” Hockenson said. “It really is surreal.”

“Usually when things happen that are good ... it’s a guy who has a good attitude and skill set,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “More important is he’s had a good work ethic. He’s playing really well right now, but he can play better. He’ll probably be the first person to tell you that.”

Injury update

Ferentz said fullback Brady Ross has an “outside chance” of playing this weekend against Nebraska. Ross has been out with an ankle injury incurred in the Indiana game Oct. 13.

Ferentz said his team has other players with “nicks” but was hopeful they would be ready to go Saturday.

Iowa ties at Nebraska

Nebraska’s defensive coordinator is Erik Chinander, a former Iowa offensive lineman. The 38-year-old played for the Hawkeyes from 1998 to 2002, then embarked on a coaching career that has seen him at Ellsworth Community College, Northern Iowa, Oregon, Central Florida, Nebraska and the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

Nebraska also employs former Iowa assistant coach Frank Verducci as a Senior Offensive Analyst.

What's in a number?

You ever wonder how a player gets the uniform number he wears? Usually that number has special meaning.

In defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa’s case, 94 was the number former Iowa star and NFL lineman Jared DeVries wore. DeVries is good friends and played with Epenesa’s father Eppy.

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The ‘J’ in A.J. stands for Jared. DeVries, by the way, is head football coach at Clear Lake.

“I think I look pretty sweet in it. My opinion,” A.J. Epenesa said. “I just want to stick with it, love the number ... (DeVries) is a great human being, that’s the most important thing.”

Running back Toren Young wears 28 because his favorite NFL player is Adrian Peterson. Now here’s the weird part.

Young is from Madison, Wis., big time Green Bay Packers territory, but his favorite team is the Chicago Bears. And his favorite player is a former Minnesota Viking.

“Conflicts,” he said, with a smile. “Just admiring a good football player. Growing up a Bears fan, I’ve watched a lot of Bears-Vikings games, and he just runs by you. He’s powerful, has a great running style.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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