IOWA CITY, Iowa – For those planning to attend the Kids Day practice on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, here in alphabetical order are 20 up-and-coming players to watch closely.
Not every player on the list will make a significant contribution this season, and some might not even play this season, considering there are five true freshmen on the list.
But they’re all either highly decorated, play a position of need or play quarterback.
You won’t find names like C.J. Beathard, Desmond King or Josey Jewell on the list because they’ve already achieved stardom.
This list is about potential more than anything else. It includes all three backup quarterbacks on scholarship, but does not include all the up-and-coming players at positions like tight end.
No. 22, Toks Akrinibade, 6-0, 205, Fr., running back – The Brownsburg, Ind., native is one of five true freshmen on the watch list. He rushed for 1,500 yards and scored 16 touchdowns as a senior last season. Finding playing time in a crowded backfield might be difficult, but Akrinbade has the size and speed to help on special teams.
No. 42, Shaun Beyer, 6-5, 210, Fr., tight end – The Cedar Rapids native is another true freshman and one of four tight ends on the watch list. Beyer has the versatility to play several positions, including linebacker, and maybe even receiver as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz indicated on media day last Saturday.
“We may fool around with him out wide, look at him,” Ferentz said. “We’re a little thin there. So we’ll play around with him for the first 10 days and see what happens.”
No. 11, Ryan Boyle, 6-1, 208, Fr., receiver – The converted quarterback and former West Des Moines Dowling star showed flashes at his new position during spring practice. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis called Boyle’s move from quarterback to receiver a one-year rental at media day. Boyle said he is fully invested at receiver and will evaluate his situation after the season.
No. 98, Ron Coluzzi, 5-11, 182, Sr., punter – A graduate transfer from Central Michigan, Coluzzi is competing for both the punting and kickoff jobs. He punted 59 times last season for a 39.3 average with a long of 61 yards and 10 punts of 50 yards or more.
No. 18, Drew Cook, 6-5, 230, Fr., quarterback – The former Iowa City Regina star has had a year to work on his mechanics and learn the system after being redshirted last season. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis spoke highly of Cook at media day, saying he has the intelligence and maturity needed to play quarterback at a high level. Davis also said Cook has made great strides as a passer.
No. 78, James Daniels, 6-4, 295, So., offensive lineman – The sophomore from Warren, Ohio is one of just a handful of offensive linemen who have played as true freshman under Ferentz. Daniels saw action in 13 games last season at guard and tackle with two starts against Northwestern and Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
No. 87, Noah Fant, 6-5, 220, Fr., tight end – The true freshman from Omaha, Neb., drew early praise from Ferentz at Big Ten Media Day. While most college coaches recruited Fant as a defensive end, Ferentz liked his potential at tight end.
“I thought he had some talents and abilities offensively that were a little bit uncommon,” Ferentz said of Fant.
No. 15, Josh Jackson, 6-1, 185, So., cornerback – The Texas native probably won’t see a lot of action as Desmond King’s backup at cornerback, but Jackson excelled last season as the nickel back.
No. 45, Drake Kulick, 6-1, 236, Jr., fullback – The Muscatine native came to Iowa as a linebacker, but has since found a home at fullback where Iowa has to replace its top two players from last season in Macon Plewa and Adam Cox.
No. 31, Aaron Mends, 6-0, 223, So., linebacker – The Kansas City, Mo., native saw action in 13 games last season, mostly on special teams. He is now listed as the starter at will linebacker and brings strength and athleticism to the position.
No. 96, Matt Nelson, 6-8, 282, So., defensive end – The former Cedar Rapids Xavier standout has had two years to strengthen his body and learn what it takes to excel at the Big Ten level. His ability to put pressure on the quarterback will be crucial to Iowa’s success as it moves on without Nate Meier.
No. 86, Peter Pekar, 6-4, 250, Jr., tight end – The walk-on from Wisconsin has quietly climbed the depth chart and is now listed as the co-backup at tight end with Jon Wisnieski.
No. 91, Miguel Recinos, 6-1, 190, So., kicker – A walk-on from Mason City, he has been listed as Iowa’s No. 1 kicker pretty much since the end of last season, along with being the backup punter. Iowa has to replace both starters at those positions from last season, so it’s fair to assume Recinos will make an impact.
No. 3, Jay Scheel, 6-1, 195, So., receiver – Two years of hype finally will gave way to action as the former high school dual-threat quarterback enters the season listed as a co-starter at split end.
No. 9, Jerminic Smith, 6-1, 187, So., receiver – The sophomore from Garland, Texas is the other co-starter at split end. Smith flashed at times last season, catching six passes for 141 yards. He and Scheel have the daunting task of trying to replace Tevaun Smith (no relation), who used up his eligibility last season.
No. 37, Brandon Snyderr, 6-1, 210, So., free safety – The former multi-sport star in high school is the only new starter in Iowa’s secondary, replacing Jordan Lomax at free safety. Snyder was a key performer on special teams last season.
No. 4, Nathan Stanley, 6-5, 212, Fr., quarterback – Fans will get their first chance to see the Wisconsin native behind center. Stanley turned down a scholarship offer from Wisconsin and was the first player to commit to Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class. He passed for 1,728 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior with just four interceptions.
No. 8, Tyler Wiegers, 6-4, 225, So., quarterback – He represents the future after Beathard, but is also just an injury away from being the starter this season. Wiegers only appeared in four games last season, but he gained valuable experience in practice while working with the No. 1 offense when Beathard was injured.
No. 81, Jon Wisnieski, 6-5, 250, Jr., tight end – The former West Des Moines Dowling star has only appeared in two games for the Hawkeyes after joining the program in 2013. He missed the entire 2014 season because of a knee injury and has been slowly working his way back up the depth chart.
No. 80, Devonte Young, 6-0, 195, Fr., receiver – The Maryland native was the only receiver in Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class. He had over 800 yards receiving as a high school senior.