Best Receivers of the Ferentz Era

June 12, 2015

Written by David Schwartz

Derrick Willies’ commitment to Texas Tech last month closed the door on a brief Iowa career that was more potential than production. The wide receiver dazzled during the Hawkeyes’ 2014 Spring Game. He scored one real touchdown for the Hawkeyes. Then he was gone.

Iowa is not a program known for producing all-world wide receivers. Its star pass catchers, mostly, are tight ends. Tony Moeaki. Dallas Clark. Scott Chandler. C.J. Fiedorowicz.

But Willies’ departure sparked nostalgia for Hawkeye wide receivers. So let’s take a walk down memory lane by recalling the top 10 wide receivers of the Kirk Ferentz Era.

10. Keenan Davis (2009-2012)

Poor Keenan Davis. He benefited from playing during the Golden Era of Ferentz wide receivers, under the tutelage of receivers coach Erik Campbell, who coached in Iowa City from 2008-2012. Davis went for 112 catches and about 1,400 yards, but he became known for his drops, not his production. And that’s a shame, because Davis was actually a solid receiver.

9. C.J. Jones (2001-2002)

Iowa fans might remember Jones as the Hawkeye who ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown against USC in the 2003 Orange Bowl before all of our TVs went mysteriously black and we were unable to watch the rest of the game. Jones began his college career at junior college before making an impact for the Hawkeyes, catching 34 passes as a junior and 38 as a senior. Nearly one in every four of his receptions in 2002 went for a touchdown.

8. Clinton Solomon (2002; 2004-2005)

Here’s the thing about Solomon: he sometimes vanished on the field, but when we contributed, he put up massive single-game numbers. Solomon totaled six games with at least 100 yards receiving and averaged an excellent 15.8 yards per reception for his career, including 17.4 as a senior. He and Ed Hinkel gave quarterback Drew Tate a lot to work with.

7. Kevonte Martin-Manley (2011-2014)

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Iowa’s all-time receptions leader was remarkably consistent, amassing season-total catches of 30, 52, 40 and 52. He averaged 10.3 yards a catch over his four seasons, and in none of those four seasons did that average fluctuate more than .7 yards from the average (10.8, 11.0, 9.7, 9.9). OK, enough numbers. It always felt like expectations for Martin-Manley were too high, perhaps because of his consistency. He basically plateaued as a sophomore, although he did develop a knack for slipping through the coverage just enough to give Iowa’s offense a first down. He also had the misfortune of being “next,” a.k.a. the go-to wide receiver who immediately followed Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. They set an almost unattainably high bar.

6. Maurice Brown (2001-2003)

Tight ends steal a lot of receivers’ thunder in Iowa’s offense, but if someone guessed that Dallas Clark led the 2002 Orange Bowl team in receptions, they’d be wrong. That honor was earned by Brown (48 catches), who averaged a staggering 20.1 yards per reception. That is a terrifying number. Calvin Johnson never averaged that in college. Neither did Amari Cooper, Dez Bryant, Jerry Rice, Randy Moss or Steve Largent. Brown also scored 11 touchdowns that year. The next year he missed five games because of injury yet still had about 500 yards receiving and four touchdowns.

5. Kahlil Hill (1997-2001)

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We forget how good Hill was because his career bridged the Hayden Fry-Ferentz transition, and for all its starts and stops. He redshirted in 1997, played in 1998, didn’t play a snap in 1999 during Ferentz’s first year, then exploded for 117 catches, more than 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns over his final two seasons. It felt like Hill played for the Hawkeyes for a decade, but it was only three seasons. In 2001 Hill earned the Mosi Tatupu Award, given to the nation’s top college football special teams player.

4. Kevin Kasper (1996-2000)

Kasper came to Iowa City during Fry’s final seasons as coach, but he excelled during the first two years of the Ferentz era. Kasper was freaky fast and a workout warrior who produced as much on the field as he did in the weight room. Under Ferentz, Kasper caught 142 passes for nearly 1,700 yards and 10 touchdowns. He survived five NFL seasons as a receiver and kick returner.

3. Ed Hinkel (2002-2005)

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One easily could make the argument to move Kasper up to No. 3, but Hinkel gets the nod because of his consistency and abilities in the clutch. A spectacular possession receiver, he was a go-to target for quarterback Drew Tate after catching passes earlier in his career from Brad Banks and Nathan Chandler. His four-touchdown game against Minnesota as a senior is unforgettable, but his one-handed catch at Michigan (fast forward to the 18-second mark) made him an Iowa legend.

2. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (2007-2010)

DJK played in 49 games over four years with the Hawkeyes, finishing his career as the school’s all-time leader in receptions (173) and receiving yards (2,616). Coaches voted him second-team All-Big Ten in 2009 and first-team in 2010 – the first Hawkeye to earn first-team honors since Tim Dwight. He led Iowa in receiving three straight seasons and finished his career with 17 touchdown receptions. However, one misdemeanor drug possession and his allegations against the program of tampering with his NFL aspirations forever tainted his Iowa career.  His relationship with the school is, to say the least, strained. Other former Hawkeyes encountered at least as many legal entanglements as DJK, but none have been distanced by the program as severely as he has been.

1. Marvin McNutt (2008-2011)

Numbers aren’t everything, but it’s fun to wonder what stats McNutt would have finished with if he had played four years at wide receiver instead of three after being converted from quarterback. He holds a ton of Iowa receiving records as it is, none more awesome than those compiled during his 2011 campaign: 82 catches, 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. He stood 6-foot-2 but played about 6-5, and his ability to twist his body and go up one-handed made him a terror to defend. Although Fry’s teams also produced some good receivers, McNutt might just be the best Iowa wide receiver of all time.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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