IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz likes to call them stories and he might have another one in sophomore defensive end Parker Hesse.
It would be easy to overlook Hesse because he isn’t exceptionally tall as are two of his fellow defensive ends on the Iowa football team, nor is he a newcomer on the rise or a proven star at this level.
Consider what Hesse is, though.
The Waukon native is on course to be a four-year starter at defensive end for the Hawkeyes, barring injuries and assuming he doesn’t lose the starting position over the next three seasons.
Hesse was the next man in as a 240-pound redshirt freshman last season after star defensive end Drew Ott succumbed to injuries.
Hesse started eight games and played in all 14 contests as a redshirt freshman, showing signs of stardom at times. Like the play in which he deflected a pass against Nebraska and then returned it four yards for a touchdown.
“Any time you can get actual game experience, that’s invaluable,” Hesse said Tuesday. “There is nothing that can truly simulate that in the offseason or on the practice field. I’m just looking to build on that and use it to improve as a player and improve my contribution to the team this year.”
Hesse’s career as a Hawkeye started in typical fashion with him being redshirted as a true freshman in 2014. He needed time to build his body after playing quarterback all through high school. He also needed time to adjust after switching from linebacker to defensive end as a true freshman.
Hesse was expected to provide depth last season while playing behind Ott.
But that plan changed after Ott suffered a season-ending knee injury against Illinois in the sixth game of last season.
Hesse became the starter and then held his own in the trenches, thanks partly to Ott’s influence as a teammate and mentor.
“It’s more like what didn’t I learn from Drew Ott,” Hesse said when asked what he learned from Ott. “Everything that I did learn was from him. The way he conducted himself, and obviously, the way he played.
“And then once he was out, the stuff he was helping me with in the meeting room, on the sidelines throughout the year was invaluable.”
Redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson now helps Hesse in a different way as his talented backup who pushes him every day in practice. The 6-foot-7, 253-pound Nelson drew praise from Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, and from Hesse on Tuesday.
“Anthony has been doing a great job,” Hesse said of the Waukee native. “He’s an extremely athletic guy for his size. He’s come a long ways. He’s a very smart player. I can say that about him. He’s helped me a lot with my pass rush. How he has been progressing is great.”
All four of the defensive ends listed on Iowa’s current depth chart are from Iowa. That means a great deal to Hesse.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s something we kind of take pride in, homegrown, home-raised Hawkeye fans through and through. It’s something where we’re all happy to be here and excited about being here and help the team carry on the tradition.”
Matt Nelson, a 6-8, 282-pound sophomore from Cedar Rapids, is listed as the other starting defensive end, ahead of 6-5, 270-pound Carroll native Sam Brincks.
“I’m the short guy in the room,” said the 6-3, 250-pound Hesse. “But it’s good. Obviously, we’ve got some size with those guys and they use their length really well. So I’m glad we got them in there.”
Hesse might be the short guy in the room, but the other defensive ends aren’t nearly as experienced. In addition to being without Ott, Iowa also has to replace Nate Meier, who started all 14 games at defensive end as a senior last season.
"Anytime you can develop more depth, that’s a good thing," Ferentz said Tuesday.
Hesse worked hard during the offseason to improve his pass-rushing skills. He said Tuesday that pressuring the quarterback is either his first or second biggest priority as a defensive end.
“I would say just shedding blocks and getting off blocks more violently and just being more explosive in the pass rush and getting a better jump,” Hesse said when asked what he emphasized this summer.
Hesse also has gained about nine pounds since last season under the supervision of Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle.
“Obviously, working with coach Doyle you’re going to improve in all areas of your strength and that’s something I’ve tried to focus on as we went through the entire offseason,” Hesse said.
Hesse sort of symbolizes the Iowa football program under Ferentz as a lightly recruited prospect from Iowa who has exceeded expectations. Ferentz often refers to players like Hesse as a feel-good story.
But what makes Hesse’s story feel even better is that so much of it still has to be written.