Three freshmen receivers begin their Iowa careers in less than a month. They arrive on campus with opportunity in front of them.
Perhaps it takes time for Adrian Falconer, Emmanuel Ogwo and Jerminic Smith to develop before getting on the field. Maybe not. They’ll get the chance to show they belong right away according to offensive coordinator Greg Davis and receivers coach Bobby Kennedy.
The Hawkeyes are replacing their all-time leader in receptions, Kevonte Martin-Manley. Speedster Damond Powell also is gone.
Tevaun Smith, Jacob Hillyer and Matt Vandeberg came out of spring ball atop the depth chart. David said there’s a big drop-off after that trio.
Falconer, Ogwo and Smith will compete with holdovers like Andre Harris, Riley McCarron, Andrew Stone and Jay Scheel, all of whom have little to no experience.
"I’d like to get all three of (the true freshmen) in the mix. Maybe that’s unrealistic, but I’m going to push for that to happen," Kennedy said.
Kennedy believes competition from the newcomers could also bring out better play in his returnees. The freshmen already are inspired by being told they could play right away.
"I’ve heard that many times and I’m very pumped that their expectations for us are so high. It really fuels my work effort," Ogwo said.
Said Falconer: "They said me and the other two receivers have a very high chance of playing right away. I’ve been working very hard trying to improve my game. I know it’s not gonna be easy. Everyone is gonna be competing for a spot. I just have to go in with a positive mindset and do what I know how to do best, which is play ball."
Falconer, a three-star recruit by 247 and two-star recruit by Rivals and Scout, caught 53 passes for 951 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior at Leesburg (FL) High. That followed a junior year that saw him haul in 55 balls for 714 yards and five scores.
"I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’m just ready to get up to Iowa and start playing football again," the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder said.
Falconer feels a high football IQ gives him a chance to get on the field in Year 1. He credits his coach, Randy Trivers, who played at Holy Cross, for teaching him the game.
Like Falconer, Ogwo said he’s been preparing for his first season of college by working out and studying Iowa plays. He said he’s been told by the coaches that he’ll play in the slot and be looked at as a return man.
Ogwo brings speed missing with the departure of Powell. He’s coming off a fourth-place finish in the 400 meters at the Texas high school state track meet last weekend. He completed the event in 46.68 seconds, which would be a state record in Iowa.
"I’ve been perfecting my craft day in and day out. They recruited me for speed and my burst abilities. That’s what I’ve been focusing on," he said.
Ogwo (6-0, 175) caught 34 passes for 490 yards and four touchdowns as a senior for Mesquite (TX) Horn High. He sat out his junior season on the gridiron to focus on track, a sport he also will play at Iowa.
"Me and (football strength coach Chris Doyle) have discussed track season and how we will balance the two. We’ll find a way to work it out," Ogwo said.
Smith (6-1, 175) enjoyed the most productive senior season of the incoming trio. He caught 68 passes for 1,216 yards and 12 touchdowns at Garland (TX) South High.
"There’s an opportunity, I think, for one of the young receivers — one of the signees. Receiver is a spot that a guy can play early, if they come in and pick things up.
Everybody has had freshman receivers be able to come in and play. So those guys will have to be given an opportunity when they get here," Davis said.
Kennedy said that the mental transition from high school to college is as important as the physical leap.
"What happens when guys tend to over think or think too much, their athletic ability slows down, their speed slows down because their mind locks them up. So hopefully we can get a jump on that and see what guys can do. But there are going to be struggles," he said.
Falconer and Ogwo said they planned to be at Iowa by June 10.
"My goal is to make an impact anyway I can," Ogwo said. " Even if I’m just a special teams guy, I’ll give it my absolute 100 percent."