Iowa Football

Part of the 2019 NFL Draft on ESPN will be 'Hawkeye TV'

With two tight ends projected to go in the first round, Iowa should get a lot of airtime in front of about 45 million people

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz watch the team warm up prior to a game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, November 23, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette7
Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz watch the team warm up prior to a game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, November 23, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette7

IOWA CITY — Sometimes in sports news conferences, it’s how you use the questions to highlight bigger and better points that maybe the question doesn’t include.

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is good at this.

During his spring news conference this week, Ferentz was asked if tonight’s NFL draft broadcast was going to be a commercial for Iowa football. Tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson will be in attendance and, more than likely, for the first time in draft history two tight ends from the same school will go in the first round.

“I think it should,” he said.

But then there was the bigger point he wanted to make. This really was the infomercial within the upcoming Iowa TE commercial tonight on ESPN.

“We have a better history and better track record than anybody in the country producing offensive linemen,” said Ferentz, who coached Iowa’s O-line for five years before being named coordinator in 2012. “Five years ago, an offensive linemen left this state to go somewhere else. Now, I’m sure he’ll get drafted and have a great career. Had an excellent college career, but you would think it was a no-brainer you would come here if you were an offensive lineman.

“Well, he didn’t and he was from right up the road.”

Ferentz referred to Ross Pierschbacher, a former Cedar Falls prep who won two national titles at Alabama.

In this, Ferentz really was parading a lot of the conclusions you’ve already reached. Why does a team that values running the ball so much have a hard time attracting highly regarded O-linemen and running backs?

“If you’re a running back, why wouldn’t you come here?” Ferentz said. “Our stated goal is we want to run the football.”

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Then, Ferentz let Gavin Williams’ name slip. That’s not an NCAA violation. Schools can acknowledge they’re recruiting a player. Williams is a 6-0, 195-pound running back from West Des Moines with track speed. He had offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan and Nebraska.

Williams is a good get.

“You think of in-state guys, it’s fairly rare for us to get a big recruit at that position (running back),” Ferentz said. “When you look at historically, it’s not always correlated. Why wouldn’t you come here? A thousand reasons, I guess, I don’t know what they are.

“We should have a pretty good TV commercial Thursday night. Hopefully guys are watching.”

It’s the NFL draft on ESPN. Guys will be watching.

Last year, the draft landed on ABC. Network television gave the ratings a boost. “Boost.” It was the highest ratings ever for the draft. An average of 5.5 million people watched at any given time, according to the NFL. It was a 25 percent increase over 2017.

Overall, the NFL said that a total of 45.8 million people watched some of the draft.

Fant and Hockenson will be at the draft, which is in Nashville, Tenn., this year. Potentially, two TEs from the same school could go in the first round for the first time. That storyline won’t hold like No. 1 and QB Kyler Murray, but it’s too unique to let sit.

Plus, Fant and Hockenson will be there. And never mind when Hockenson says things like this.

“I’m not in it for the glam or the glory,” Hockenson said. “It’s cool, but at the same time, I’m just ready to dive into the playbook and learn.”

It’s not what they say, it’s just that Fant and Hockenson are there.

“It’s going to be a great day,” Fant said. “My parents get to reap the benefits also. They helped me through my career, pushed me and provided good parental figures for me. My brothers and sisters, too. It’s going to be a special day, not only for me but also for my family.”

Right now, even before tonight’s draft, the seasons Hockenson and Fant had in 2018 are already starting to work for the Hawkeyes.

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Earlier this month, Iowa received a commitment from Elijah Yelverton, a 6-5, 235-pound tight end from Dallas, Texas. Yelverton had 36 offers, including Michigan, LSU, Penn State and Oregon. The Hawkeyes also sit well with Caleb Fauria, a 6-5, 216-pounder from Attleboro, Mass. The son of former NFL and Colorado tight end Christian Fauria, Caleb has seven offers and visited Iowa City this week.

“The biggest highlight on the trip was meeting T.J. Hockenson,” Fauria told HawkeyeReport.com. “I ran into him while in the locker room and he is a very down to earth guy.”

In the interview Fauria said he does need to work on his blocking. And then he said this.

“If I go there, I will need to improve my blocking, but coach (Brian) Ferentz can help with that,” Fauria told HR. “The proof is in the pudding that coach Ferentz is capable of producing elite tight ends and has developed them all into great blockers and route runners.”

Also, tight end Travis Vokolek announced last week that he’s transferring from Rutgers. The 6-6, 250-pounder is the nephew of long-time UNI head coach Terry Allen and his dad, D.J. Vokolek, is the linebackers coach at UNI.

Vokolek is visiting Iowa City today, which is, unofficially, “National Tight Ends Day” in Iowa City. The UI will be able to claim that with, potentially, two TEs going in the first round.

You know how Iowa culture is about these big, glitzy events. It’s not into them. Besides, head coach Kirk Ferentz has a closing spring practice to preside over Friday night.

“I guess I’m jaded or cynical,” Brian Ferentz said. “I just don’t believe that (having two players in the draft green room on ESPN for who knows how long tonight) that’s going to make a lasting impact.

“I think that right now, if you don’t recruit the right kid, the right things aren’t going to impress him, anyway.”

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45.8 million people will be watching. Maybe a few of them want to be future O-linemen and running backs in major-college football. Maybe even at Iowa.

That can’t hurt.

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

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