Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series ranking the top 10 Iowa football players at each position. Up next, offensive linemen.
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Great receivers don’t always start out as receivers.
And for proof, look no further than my list of the top 10 receivers in the history of the Iowa football program.
Two of them played quarterback in high school, while two others played running back in high school, including one who switched back to running back after having been a receiver as a freshman and sophomore at Iowa.
Iowa has had some great receivers over the years, but only seven Iowa receivers have made first-team All-Big Ten since 1970. Five of those seven receivers made this top-10 list.
The modern-day receiver at Iowa started to take shape in the 1970s and then really took off after Hayden Fry was hired as the Iowa head coach shortly after the 1978 season.
So, it probably isn’t a coincidence that nine of the 10 receivers that made this list played at Iowa after Fry was hired as head coach.
Iowa had some great offensive ends in the 1950s and 1960s, players such as Jim Gibbons and Don Norton, but the position has evolved a great deal since then. Some would also argue that Gibbons and Norton both played more like a tight end than a modern-day receiver.
Split-end Brian Rollins didn’t make the top 10, but he deserves mention, and was considered, because he made first-team All-Big Ten in 1973 for an Iowa team that finished 0-11.
10. Ronnie Harmon, 1982-85 – He is the only player in program history to finish his career with more than 2,000 receiving yards and 2,000 rushing yards.
He agreed to play receiver as a freshman and sophomore because there was plenty of proven depth at running back and Hayden Fry wanted to get him on the field sooner than later. He was well on his way to becoming one of the best receivers in program history when he switched back to running back as a junior in 1984.
As a true freshman in 1982, Harmon caught two touchdown passes in Iowa’s 28-22 victory over Tennessee in the 1982 Peach Bowl, and as a sophomore, he led Iowa with six catches for 90 yards the 1983 Gator Bowl loss to Florida.
He also made the list of top 10 running backs at Iowa, ranked second.
9. Keith Chappelle, 1979-80 – The only junior college recruit to make the list, he was the first Iowa receiver to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season, achieving that milestone in 1980 when he had 64 receptions for 1,037 yards and six touchdowns.
The California native helped lay the foundation under Fry, and his performance over two seasons also served notice that Iowa’s passing attack was about to soar to unprecedented heights.
8. Dave Moritz, 1980-83 – The Chicago native also helped lay the foundation in the early years under Hayden Fry as a sure-handed receiver who had knack for slipping past defenders.
He averaged 17.5 yards per catch as a Hawkeye, and that ranks first among Iowa’s top 10 career leaders in receiving yards.
He finished his career with 109 receptions for 1,912 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
He also made first-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 1983 when he led Iowa with 50 catches for 912 yards and five touchdowns.
7. Karl Noonan, 1963-65 – The Davenport Assumption graduate broke four Big Ten and Iowa records as a junior in 1964 when he had 59 receptions for 933 yards and five touchdowns. He was named first-team All-American by at least two news outlets in 1964 and second-team All-American by the Associated Press.
He also led Iowa in receiving as a senior with 545 yards on 43 catches.
6. Kevin Kasper, 1997-00 – He came to Iowa as a walk-on under Hayden Fry in 1997 and left as one of the most prolific receivers in program history under Kirk Ferentz.
The Illinois native is ranked sixth on Iowa’s all-time receiving list with 1,974 yards and 11 touchdowns on 157 catches.
He set a program record with 82 catches as a senior in 2000, and his 1,010 receiving yards that season ranks third all-time for a single season at Iowa.
5. Quinn Early, 1974-87 – The New York native made first-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 1987 when he led Iowa with 63 catches for 1,004 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is one of just four receivers in program history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
He finished his career with 106 receptions for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns, and averaged 17.3 yards per reception.
His 256 receiving yards against Northwestern in 1987 still ranks first for a single game in program history. He also had 10 catches and scored four touchdowns in that game.
He was also a Big Ten champion in the long jump.
4. Danan Hughes, 1989-92 – His 2,216 receiving yards is ranked fourth in program history. He also finished his career with 146 catches and 21 touchdowns.
A native of Bayonne, New Jersey, he made first-team All-Big Ten as a junior in 1991 and second-team as a senior in 1992.
He was also an outfielder for the Iowa baseball team.
3. Tim Dwight, 1994-97 – The Iowa City native played his freshman season as a reserve running back behind Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks before switching to receiver in the spring of 1995.
The move was made to get Dwight on the field and would prove to be one of the best positions switches during Hayden Fry’s 20 seasons as head coach as Dwight would go on to finish his Hawkeye career with 139 catches for 2,271 and 21 touchdowns.
He held the program record for most career receiving yards for over a decade.
He was also a consensus All-America return specialists as a senior in 1997, and he made first-team All-Big Ten as a receiver in 1997.
2. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, 2007-10 – The Ohio native was recruited to Iowa as a receiver after having been a dual-threat quarterback in high school.
He led Iowa in receiving as a freshman, sophomore and junior and finished his career as a four-year starter with 73 receptions for 2,616 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
His receiving yards is the second most in program history, and he made first-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 2010 and second-team as a junior in 2009.
He also ranks among the greatest kick returners in program history.
- Marvin McNutt, 2008-11 – The St. Louis native was recruited to Iowa as a quarterback and played that position for one year before switching to receiver in 2008.
It would prove to be one of the best position switches under Kirk Ferentz, and that’s saying a lot.
McNutt would go on to become Iowa’s all-time leading receiver with 2,861 yards and 28 touchdowns on 170 receptions. He averaged 16.8 yards per catch during his career.
He also holds the Iowa single-season record for receiving yards (1,315), which he set in 2011. His 82 receptions in 2011 also tied Kevin Kasper for most catches in a season by a Hawkeye.
McNutt made first-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 2011 and second-team as a junior in 2010.
However, he made his most famous catch as a sophomore in 2009, a 7-yard scoring strike from quarterback Ricky Stanzi on the final play of Iowa’s 15-13 victory at Michigan State.
Also considered: Lester Belding, Clinton Solomon, Irwin Prasse, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Jim Gibbons, Don Norton, Kahlil Hill, Deven Harberts, Brian Rollins, Bill Happel, Maurice Brown, Ed Hinkel, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Robert Smith, Harold Jasper, Al Bream, Travis Watkins.