Howe: 10 Players I’m Excited to Watch When Hawkeye Football Returns
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Sitting here, stuck in my house for another day, staring out the window, I daydream about reporting on Iowa football again.
It’s a great job. I’m lucky. I miss it.
It’s hard picturing what it will be like, what restrictions will be in place following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the games will be returning, and I’m hoping to be there.
When they come back, we’ll drop into a fun time for the program. It will be looking to build on 47 wins during the last five seasons. It’s exciting thinking about what we could witness.
While pondering the possibilities, here are 10 players I’m looking forward to watching the next time The Swarm emerges from the Kinnick Stadium tunnel with Back in Black blaring from the sound system (alphabetical order):
Dane Belton, Safety/Cash, TR SO – I’m not sure there’s a more important player on the Iowa defense going into next season. Belton can play the all-important Cash spot and also figures into the mix for Geno Stone’s vacated strong safety slot should defensive coordinator Phil Parker find someone else capable of handling the hybrid position. Either way, the Florida native brings athleticism and toughness to Iowa’s secondary. He’s poised for a big step forward.
Chauncey Golston, DE, RS SR – Iowa has benefitted from strong defensive end play for the last several seasons. It was so good, A.J. Epenesa, the team’s sack leader the last three years, didn’t start until 2019. Golston has steadily improved as his playing time increased. He’s become bigger, stronger, faster and more technically sound. He’s positioned for a breakout.
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Tyler Goodson, RB, TR SO – Iowa’s sluggish running game received a boost when the freshman from Georgia entered the starting lineup against Minnesota last November. Goodson showed off those traits that can’t be coached, which often define the special players at this position. Who doesn’t want to see what this dude can do with a full-season work load?
Alaric Jackson, LT, RS SR – Coach Kirk Ferentz will be leading the Iowa program for his 22nd season. Jackson will be the first player in that time to start for four years at left tackle. He’s returning for his senior campaign even though he likely would have been drafted last month. He’s set up for a dominating final chapter.
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Mark Kallenberger, OL, RS JR – Every time I ask offensive line coach Tim Polasek about Kallenberger, he tells me it’s up to the Bettendorf native if he wants to break through. Polasek sees the necessary talent, but it’s up to his pupil to put it all together. He started showing it toward the end of ’19 and another jump forward would be big for this line.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, RS SO Some early ’21 NFL mock drafts are including Linderbaum. That says a lot for the sophomore from Solon. While it remains to be seen if he would leap to the next level after only three years in college, he already looks the part even though he experienced some bumps as a first-year starter. He’s a beast. Consistency is the next hurdle. If he clears that, watch out.
Daviyon Nixon, DT, RS JR – If I were choosing a Hawkeye to go from under the radar to household name, I’d pick Nixon. He combines freakish athleticism with size and strength. With two years of coaching in the Iowa program and another with a strong staff at Iowa Western under his belt, Nixon is ready to terrorize opposing offenses like we witnessed with Carl Davis and Jaleel Johnson.
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Spencer Petras, QB, RS SO – The Northern California native takes over for Nate Stanley, who started the last three seasons, taking every meaningful snap in that time. Petras possesses many of the same traits we saw in Stanley, including a big arm that can make all the throws. He should benefit from an experienced group of skill position players.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, TR SR – Smith-Marsette represents one of the aforementioned experienced skill players at Petras’ disposal. The New Jersey product performs well in the clutch, creating a history of memorable plays in key moments. Whether it’s catching a pass down the sideline or across the middle, or racing back with a kick return, ISM is electric.
Brandon Smith, WR, TR SR – Smith’s circus catch for a TD against Penn State in ’19 highlighted what was becoming a breakout season. Then he hurt his leg and required surgery. He didn’t return to close to normal until the Holiday Bowl. Smith has steadily improved during his time at Iowa, and he should serve as a top target for the developing Petras.