You’ve heard of Prophetstown, Ill., Iowa fans. That’s where former Hawkeye defensive lineman and former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is from. He walked on, earned a scholarship and a captaincy.
Jack Heflin won’t have that kind of time, but the Hawkeyes now have another D-lineman from Prophetstown.
This week, Heflin, a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, committed to play his final season of college football for the Hawkeyes. The two-time all-Mid-American Conference defensive lineman entered the transfer portal in May and committed to the Hawkeyes this week. He made it official with a tweet late Thursday afternoon.
Yes, Heflin and his family are Hawkeyes fans. He told the Quad City Times in 2018, “I grew up in a family full of Iowa fans and my dream has always been to play at Kinnick Stadium. I watched Hawkeye football on Saturdays growing up in Prophetstown and they were my team.”
Heflin had to work his way up to this. He came out of Prophetstown High School a 6-3, 245-pound offensive lineman with a 2-star rating from Rivals. His one and only offer then was Northern Illinois.
Next season, the Hawkeyes will get a 6-4, 310-pound defensive lineman who’s steadily improved through his NIU career and progressed to one of the dominant defensive tackles in the MAC.
Heflin earned second-team all-MAC in 2019 with team highs in sacks (3.0) and tackles for loss (8.5). In 2018, Heflin made third-team all-MAC with 6.0 sacks and 8.0 tackles for loss.
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Heflin also had 31 tackles and three forced fumbles (second in the MAC). Heflin earned honorable mention All-America from Pro Football Focus.
Coming out of 2019, the Hawkeyes had an obvious need on the defensive line, which has lost seven starters the last two seasons. From 2019, Iowa will lose defensive end A.J. Epenesa, one of the premier pass rushers in the Big Ten the last two seasons, and a pair of fully weight-room matured defensive tackles Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore.
“Guys like Parker (Hesse, a 2018 grad), guys like Chauncey Golston (DE1 going into 2020), you just see them growing and maturing every year,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s the work that’s in front of us right now, the guys who are on our roster.”
Ferentz was asked in February if the Hawkeyes would go portal shopping for defensive linemen. Iowa did make a run for former Stanford D-lineman Jovan Swann, but he picked Indiana.
“If someone is out there who makes sense, we’ll certainly look at it,” Ferentz said.
Heflin likely will boost the tackle rotation. Junior Daviyon Nixon (6-3, 309) is the leader inside, coming off a productive first season with 3.0 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Senior Austin Schulte (6-3, 287) is in line to be the other starter, with Noah Shannon (6-0, 294) and Heflin seeing snaps.
Two players this probably affects most for 2020 are Logan Lee and John Waggoner.
In February, Ferentz said Lee’s position was still up in the air. He played some defensive tackle in the fall, but at 6-5 and in the 250-to-270-pound range, he also has edge possibilities. With Epenesa’s departure, that’s where Iowa has the biggest need, so probably look for Lee at defensive end.
Lee is a former prep wrestling champion from Orion, Ill. He earned Iowa’s scout team MVP three times last season and D-line coach Kelvin Bell thought he should’ve won it more than that. Lee is in line for some snaps in 2020.
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Waggoner came to Iowa out of West Des Moines Dowling a big defensive end. At 6-5, 270, he also might have tackle possibilities.
The 2020 D-line is the work ahead for the Hawkeyes. Heflin’s arrival should give Bell a few more options.
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