The Iowa Barnstormers have consistently had one of the best receiving corps’ in the Indoor Football League over the past few seasons.
With the imminent coaching change that became official on Thursday with the hiring of Ameer Ismail, it’s wondered on if the Barnstormers will elect to maintain the focus on pass catchers.
They already took a big step towards it when they signed their first player on Friday.
Connor Hollenbeck becomes first signing for Barnstormers 2020 Roster
Connor Hollenbeck, a standout from the team’s 2019 roster became the first player to sign for 2020 as well as the first to announce he was returning to Des Moines.
For him, the process was easy.
After he found out former head coach Dixie Wooten would be leaving the franchise, he wanted to see who Iowa hired next before he signed to play for the Barnstormers for a second season.
“[Barnstormers Vice President and Chief Operating Executive] John [Pettit] called me a told me who it was,” Hollenbeck said. “We talked and I signed an hour later.”
Hollenbeck said he’s heard and seen nothing but good things about Coach Ismail and that it made his decision easy.
The returning standout was looking for another high energy coach to lead the Barnstormers and he got exactly that in Ismail.
“I wanted to see [Iowa hire] a coach with the same energy as [Wooten],” Hollenbeck said. “As long as he can keep us motivated and keep that energy and practice like it’s a game, we’ll [be good].”
Hollenbeck finished in the top 10 category in a number of receiving stats for the IFL in 2019.
The Edinsboro graduate finished eighth in total yards with 627, tied for seventh in touchdowns with 14, and was fourth in the league with 58 receptions in 13 games played.
“Obviously I’d like to increase my catches and yards,” Hollenbeck said. “That’d be awesome. I mean, like last year, I had better stats than I did any other year and our record was good. You know, I think you kind of look at your role on the team and know what you’re going to get no matter the situation, so maybe [I’d want to look at] consistency I guess.”
Though Hollenbeck’s goals lie within the team he’s playing on.
After playing two seasons with the Cedar Rapids Titans and only seeing four combined wins in his time on the east side of the state, the move to the Des Moines squad that was trending upward was easy.
“I’m going to keep just playing my game,” Hollenbeck said. “I’m all about the team. As long as we have a record like we did last year, I could really care less about how many catches I get.”
One thing that Hollenbeck is trying to improve on this year is playing at an even lighter weight than he did a season ago.
That’s what scouts have given Hollenbeck for feedback as he works, like the rest of the league, to reach the next level.
“I want to get quicker and faster,” Hollenbeck said. “That means playing at a lower weight and get a little leaner. See if I can get a little faster and develop some break-away speed; stuff like that.”
Hollenbeck came into camp last season weighing 240 pounds, which was a little on the heavy side for him, but he planned to cut weight during the two-week period.
That meant he was playing last season around 230 pounds.
“I felt better with the way I was playing on the field like that, so maybe if I lost five or ten more, I might feel even better,” Hollenbeck said.
He wants to take his range from 220-240 pounds during the year and shift it to around 215-230 pounds.
“I want to maybe come into camp a little bit lighter this year,” Hollenbeck said. “And bulk up a bit before, still so I can lose it.”
The team is slated to begin the 2020 Indoor Football League season in February, but the official schedule won’t be released for at least a couple of weeks.