Iowa Spring Football Preview
Iowa Spring ball begins this week in Iowa City and the Hawkeyes are looking to build off of a successful 10-win 2021 season. There are several key returning starters in this year’s group, and they line up alongside some new faces in the building. These new guys will have a chance to shine early in the 2022 calendar year. Practice begins on Wednesday and these are some names to keep an eye on.
The guy who everyone will be watching this week is true freshman Xavier Nwankpa. The five-star defensive back enrolled early at the University and has a chance to turn heads early and often. Nwankpa, out of Southeast Polk High School in Des Moines, Iowa, participated in the All American Bowl in early January. He stood out in the practice sessions, intercepting a pass early on, and had a couple of pass breakups in the game that weekend. He showed he can compete and excel against some of the best athletes in the country this past winter.
Nwankpa will wear number one for the Hawkeyes and has a chance to see the field early. With the departure of Jack Koerner at safety, there is a slot to be filled in the secondary. Safety is his primary position, but it’s likely he’ll get experience with the defense as a whole this spring, and the coaches will place him where he fits best. Nwankpa said he is just fine with that. His athleticism and playmaking ability will allow him to grow quickly within the program. Watch for Nwankpa to start taking strides beginning this week in Iowa City.
Iowa’s quarterback room is intriguing, but mostly the same as it was last season. Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla are likely battling for the starting spot, but they will be challenged by Joey Labas. The Ohio native impressed coaches last season on the scout team and even took reps with the starters in preparation for the Citrus Bowl last January. His ability to distribute the football vertically and accurately can be a massive weapon for the Hawkeye offense. With dynamic young receivers including Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV, introducing a vertical passing game could change the look of Iowa’s offense. Watch for Labas to get some solid reps in Spring practice and potentially make a push for the starting role.
Last season, redshirt freshman Gavin Williams got a considerable amount of touches out of the backfield alongside Tyler Goodson. With Goodson moving on to the next level, Williams is in a prime position to take a leap in his sophomore season. He carried the ball 65 times for over 300 yards last season. Nearly 100 of those yards came in the Citrus Bowl. Williams put his physicality on display in that game. He tallied over six yards per attempt and fought for yardage on key plays late in the game. He could be shaping up to be one of Iowa’s better running backs in recent years, up there with his predecessor.
The Iowa secondary dealt with some injuries last season that allowed younger guys to see the field early. One of those players was Jermari Harris. The sophomore stepped in for the injured Terry Roberts, who was in for Riley Moss. Although he was deep on the roster, he made an immediate impact. He played in 10 games last year and recorded four interceptions; three of which came in the final three games. Harris filled in the cracks last year but showed he can do more than that with his performance in the Citrus Bowl. In what turned out to be the best game of his young career, Harris recorded four tackles, two pass breakups, and an interception all while giving up a mere 18 yards against Kentucky.
Harris has the potential to be yet another nationally-recognized Iowa defensive back this season next to Moss. He has allowed his teammates to help shape him into the player he was last season. The 2022 year could likely be his time to make an even greater leap. Spring practice will be a great opportunity to witness the strides that Harris is making to further improve the Hawkeye secondary.
Iowa Spring Football Preview
Four early-enrollees will take the field this week in Iowa City under the leadership of several veteran Hawkeyes. The biggest new name is Nwankpa, who will look to stand out on defense and special teams. A few sophomores on offense have a chance to break out this year in Labas and Williams. While the quarterback battle will likely last through the fall, the running back room will get an immediate playmaker in Williams. Iowa’s secondary has an influx of young talent. Harris has a chance to be a young veteran on track to take a massive stride into his junior season at Iowa. The ball gets rolling on the 2022 season in just a few days as the Hawkeyes will take the field in Iowa City for Spring football.