Sam LaPorta thinks it’s “cool” that Iowa has the reputation of producing great tight ends.
He is No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end now, and wants to stay there.
To do that, though, means a not-so-fun look at the past.
LaPorta, heading into his junior season, has caught 42 passes for 459 yards. He led the Hawkeyes with 27 catches, and was second with 271 receiving yards, last season.
That doesn’t mean, though, that his play has been perfect. The review can sometimes be unpleasant.
“You go back and you watch your former self, past games and past practices, like that,” LaPorta said on Tuesday. “We always talk about how you want to think about your former self as, like, ‘How could I have ever done things that way?’ Or, ‘How could I have run routes like that?’ You want to look back and think, ‘How could I have basically been that bad?’”
There is progress, though, and LaPorta has noticed that as well.
“The game has slowed down for me so much these past couple of months, with more reps over and over and over against our defense and going against great athletic guys on our defense, and the way we play our defense,” he said.
“Getting to look at that film after practice, and seeing the little steps of growing as a player, has really helped me, has helped my pass-catching game and run-blocking and so forth.
“The developmental program that Iowa is definitely like a slow-build process. Like I said, my freshman year, I look back now and I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness, how could I have done those things?’ Even in the past season, I’ve looked back and thought, ‘Wow, I’ve had that look three or four times in spring ball, and I’m not messing that up any more like I messed it up in the season.’ Getting that experience and getting those reps is what makes the difference in the fall.”
It’s an inexperienced room with the loss of Shaun Beyer, who had 11 catches for 158 yards last season as a senior.
In some ways, it feels like LaPorta has been at Iowa for a while. He played as a true freshman and is a popular target in the passing game.
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz wants LaPorta to capitalize on that leadership.
It’s about having a better understanding of the game, LaPorta said.
“Over the past two years, I’ve gotten a lot of on-the-field experience, and using that film to study from and see how far I’ve come with all of the reps I’ve taken in spring ball so far, is just a few of the steps I’ve taken individually,” LaPorta said.
At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, LaPorta thinks he is at his perfect playing weight.
“I feel fast, I feel strong, I feel physical playing at this weight,” he said. “I don’t think I’m growing any time soon, so I think I’m staying where I am.”
His goal is to stay at the top of the depth chart. He knows of Iowa’s history of producing tight ends that have moved on to the NFL.
LaPorta knows he has to work to be a big part of that position group.
“Being able to see myself to grow as an individual and as a player, and seeing everyone else in the tight-end room as well get a lot of reps and grow as players is awesome to see,” LaPorta said. “I have great appreciation in the guys before me, who helped me out.
“Leading by example, I think, is the most important thing on this team. Showing up every day and going to work, and being a developmental player, step by step, little baby steps, is going in the right direction.”