IOWA CITY — When Iowa successfully recruited Tyrone Tracy out of Indianapolis a couple of years ago, many wondered if he was a running back or a wide receiver.
Iowa did, too.
Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017 rushed for 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior at Decatur Central High School. He also had more than 1,100 yards in receptions and 17 TDs.
He was that versatile.
“When I first got here, I was a wide receiver,” Tracy said. “Then it was spring ball, I think it was, they moved me to running back and wide receiver. They had me doing both. That was kind of tough, to try and learn two spots at one time. They saw what I could do at running back, they saw what I could do at wide receiver.”
The decision of where to permanently put the redshirt freshman ended up being made by the recruitment of another player. This kid named Tyler Goodson, the Hawkeyes’ emerging true freshman tailback.
“T-Good came, and he took the spotlight,” Tracy said with a smile. “He can go ahead and have it. He’s a tremendous running back, and I’ll pass the torch to him. I’ll just stick to wide receiver right now and do what I can.”
What Tracy has done is successfully fill in for Brandon Smith at a starting receiver spot for No. 17 Iowa (8-3, 5-3), which plays a 1:30 p.m. Black Friday game at Nebraska (5-6, 3-5). Smith injured an ankle in an Oct. 19 game against Purdue and hasn’t played since.
He was the Hawkeyes’ leading pass catcher at the time of his injury, and everyone wondered how big of a hit the offense would take with him absent. But Tracy has done the proverbial stepping up.
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The fleet-footed 5-foot-11, 200-pounder has 22 receptions for 379 yards in his last five games, as opposed to 12 catches for 190 yards in his first six.
He seems to have turned a corner.
“I really think (the turnaround) was when Brandon got hurt,” Tracy said. “I felt like I had to step up my game to make sure that we weren’t lacking at the wide receiver position. It was like the next-man-in mentality. I had to do what I do, but at the next level. I had to take the next step to make sure there was no void, there were no holes or gaps missing. I had to make sure the OC (offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz) and the wide receivers and the quarterback could depend on me.”
The kid is a playmaker, for sure.
Look at that 50-yard touchdown catch he had Oct. 26 against Northwestern, in which he caught a pass over the middle for 15 yards, spun out of a tackle and sprinted down the sideline to the end zone. And the 75-yard TD bomb he caught two weeks later at Wisconsin.
“I had to focus in on my fundamentals and my details way more,” Tracy said. “Brandon is a really great player, and if he didn’t get hurt, he would have had a record-book season, stat wise. He made amazing plays before he got hurt, so imagine what he would have done if he hadn’t gotten hurt. That’s my boy. He always lifts me up and tells me good job. He’s always there for me. I had to focus on the fundamentals, on the details to make sure I’m making Brandon proud.”
There can’t be much doubt Tracy is doing just that.
“We’re just such a better receiver group right now than we were two years ago,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Some of the same faces, but just overall we’re a lot better.
“It’s just the way football works — the ball kind of goes where it goes, and certainly having a little bit more experience and guys that are more adept at the receiver position helps since Brandon is not playing right now. Ihmir (Smith-Marsette) is a much better player than he was two years ago, and you’ve got guys like ... Nico (Ragaini) and Tyrone that are young players ... Right now that’s one of the strengths of our offense, I would say, is that receiver group. Those guys in particular are really doing a good job, and I think we all have confidence in them.”
Could there be another Tracy coming to Iowa? Tyrone’s younger brother, Kenny, is a senior at Decatur Central who is being courted by several schools.
He has been at Kinnick Stadium for multiple games to watch Tyrone.
“I’m trying to pull a couple strings, seeing what I can do to try and get him here,” Tyrone said. “Obviously, I do want him here because we are a pretty tight-knit family, and it would be amazing if he came here. But, then, again, I want him to be happy with his decision wherever he goes. Even if it’s not him, I want him to be happy and go where it’s the best fit for him.”
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