IOWA CITY, Iowa – Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle don’t talk much about what they’re experiencing right now. The Iowa teammates do understand the uniqueness of the situation, however.
The first cousins sat atop the Hawkeye depth chart at tight end this week. Both have contributed during the team’s 4-0 start.
"It’s great. It’s really exciting for our whole family," Krieger Coble said. "We’re just as good of friends as we are cousins or family but our families are all close and it’s just awesome. We don’t think about it much but I’m sure in the future we’ll definitely look back and be like, that was a pretty cool experience."
Kittle has dealt with a knee injury he suffered in the first half of the season-opener against Illinois State. The junior was back in full force during Saturday’s 62-16 blowout of North Texas.
In the third quarter, the cousins lined up side by side off left tackle. They shot off the ball and helped pave the way for Jordan Canzeri’s fourth touchdown run of the day.
"Really it’s just fun to be together, playing again, sports, like we were as kids. We just kind of feed off each other," Kittle said.
Krieger Coble and Kittle have followed a long line of athletes from their family at Iowa and are linked by their mothers, who are sisters – Amy Krieger, Henry’s mom who played softball at the school, and Jan Krieger, George’s mom.
Jess Settles (basketball) and Brad Carlson (baseball) are cousins of George and Henry and Bub Krieger (football) is their grandfather. Bruce Kittle, George’s father, is an Iowa alumnus who played offensive line and captained the 1982 Rose Bowl team. George’s sister, Emma Kittle, is an Iowa City West High graduate and former Iowa volleyball player.
Henry attended Mount Pleasant (Iowa) High and signed with Iowa in the 2011 recruiting class. A year later, George inked his letter with the Hawkeyes following two seasons at Norman (OK) High. He played his first two years at Iowa City West before Bruce took an assistant coaching job with the Oklahoma Sooners, whose head coach Bob Stoops played and assisted at Iowa.
"It’s just fun to be able to do what my family did before me and just trying to do some of the great things that they did," George said.
Henry and George lived in the same town for a few years of elementary school. They grew that bond during family gatherings through the years after that. Unlike a competitive sibling rivalry, the cousins played nice. It’s remained that way as they seek time at the same position.
"We’re really good friends. We hang out all the time outside of football. We’ve always just fed off each other. I don’t think either of us really view it as battling for each other’s jobs. We just want whoever can do it better to be in the game," George said.
Krieger Coble (6-4, 250) entered this season with seven catches for 58 yards in his Iowa career. Already this year, he’s hauled in 10 balls for 105. He’s started all four games.
Kittle (6-4, 235) accumulated six catches for 133 yards in his first two campaigns with the Hawkeyes. Even in limited action in ’15, he’s caught four passes for 69 yards. Saturday, he scored his first college touchdown, a 43-yarder against North Texas.
Kittle has transitioned to tight end after being a prep wideout. He’s worked hard on blocking. So, while he loved getting into the end zone for the first time, paving the way with Krieger Coble for Canzeri to cross the goal line proved just as gratifying.
"It was my first receiving touchdown so that was pretty cool but I’ve come to learn that completely obliterating someone on a run play is completely satisfying. I’ll gladly do that over getting a catch," Kittle said.
Said Krieger Coble: "He’s done a really good job in all areas. You can’t really put a label on him. He’s improved in all areas of the game. He’s definitely put in the work so he’s done a great job."
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz has praised Krieger Coble’s play for the last couple of seasons. He’s filled the role of unsung player who’s done the little things that often go unnoticed by fans. His teammates have said he catches everything thrown his way and his strong blocking skills have helped the Hawkeyes break in two new offensive tackles.
Iowa got a boost last week when the projected starter at tight end, Jake Duzey (off-season knee surgery), returned to the field for a few plays. Jameer Outsey, who switched from linebacker this summer, has filled in nicely at a deep position.
The Hawkeyes likely will lean on the group when they open the Big Ten season at Wisconsin (11 a.m. CT, ESPN). The game holds special significance for Kittle, who was born in Madison and cheered on the Badgers until signing a national letter of intent with Iowa.
"I went to all of their games. Ron Dayne was my favorite player, one of the best running backs of all time. But I had to cut that cord. I’d rather be a Hawkeye than a Badger," he said.
His family, especially Henry, is glad it worked out that way as well.