Former Panthers fighting for playing time at Iowa
Mt. Pleasant boasts a pair of current Hawkeye football players — one is eyeing a big role in his final season, and one is working on finding his place among a talented group of tight ends.
Both are prepared to give all they have for another year with Iowa.
Jordan Cotton is poised to play a bigger role in his last season at the University of Iowa after garnering some preseason honors and attention — particularly as a kick returner, where he made his mark on the team last year.
Henry Krieger-Coble started to see more time on the field at the end of his freshman season, and as a sophomore with some game experience this year, he will look to contribute everything he has at tight end.
For Cotton, his career as a Hawkeye has included a lot of time patiently waiting his turn — something he’s not complaining about.
“I had a lot of guys in front of me that I could learn from,” Cotton said.
His patience paid off, and Cotton had his breakout year last season — he saw action in all 12 games and recorded two touchdowns; he had 12 catches for 172 yards as a wide receiver and returned 19 kickoffs for 536 total yards.
This year, he’s looking for even more — and coaches are looking for more from him.
Cotton’s success as a kick returner has given him a place to shine, another place to use the speed that he’s known for.
He led the Big 10 and ranked 14th nationally with an average of 28.2 yards on kickoff returns. His 92-yard return for a touchdown against Penn State tied the 10th-longest in school history. He had returned another kickoff for 82 yards.
“I think that (being the kick returner) did give me a chance to contribute more, and level my game up,” Cotton said. “It has given me more confidence at receiver, too.”
The senior had caught his first career touchdown pass last year in a 31-13 win over Minnesota, on a flea flicker play.
“I was definitely nervous ... it felt like the ball was in the air forever,” Cotton said. “I just kind of blacked out after I caught it.”
This year he’ll be out on the field with a new quarterback — though who exactly that quarterback will be is yet to be determined: Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard are all fighting for the opportunity.
There’s also some new staff, including a new wide receivers’ coach, Bobby Kennedy, and a new special teams’ coach, Chris White, who comes to Iowa from the Minnesota Vikings, where he had the opportunity to coach kick returner Percy Harvin.
One thing on the mind of players, coaches and fans of Iowa football is whether the changes in the staff and on the team will mean a better season than last year’s 4-8 finish.
“Like most teams in America, we have a lot of work to do (at this point in the season),” Ferentz said. “We need to continue to develop players, and we need the players with experience to keep getting better. As we all find out at a young age, this is more fun when you win than when you lose.”
Cotton plans to be a part of the effort to improve that aspect of the game this season.
“I definitely feel that I can make more big plays, both offensively and on special teams,” Cotton said.
He’s not the only one who feels that way.
Cotton has garnered some preseason honors, including first team all-Big 10 kick return specialist recognition by Athlon, Phil Steele and College Sports Madness.
“Preseason honors are good, but they’re preseason,” Cotton said. “I’ve got to work hard every day and not let it get to my head.”
The Mt. Pleasant native has people to keep him grounded back home — a dad who’s been in his shoes and a brother who plays for a rival.
“I can always go back home on breaks and talk to my dad (Marshall Cotton, who also played for Iowa). We joke around, joke about who scored more.”
Cotton’s brother, Darian Cotton, is a defensive back for Iowa State.
Both Cotton brothers grew up playing with another Hawkeye: Krieger-Coble.
“Henry (Krieger-Coble) lives a block away from me in Mt. Pleasant, so we’d always run around the house when we were younger — me, my brother, and Henry. I try to be a mentor for him; I’m glad he’s on the team.
“He’s definitely developed a lot as a player early on, and I’m not surprised,” Cotton continued. “He was moved up (to varsity) as a freshman in high school, and he’s grown up a lot since high school. He’s a gamer; he’s a hard worker — he always gives 100 percent.”
For his part, Krieger-Coble notes that his goal is simply to do whatever he can to help the Hawkeyes.
“I just want to contribute to the team as much as I can, in as many ways as possible,” he said. “I just want to come in every day and work hard on every single facet of my game.”
As a tight end, Krieger-Coble is part of what Ferentz calls the deepest group he’s got on the team.
“I have as much depth at tight end as any position,” Ferentz said. “There are probably five guys I would feel comfortable putting in the game, and I can’t say that about any other position.”
Four of those Hawkeyes are on the depth chart: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ray Hamilton, Jake Duzey and Krieger-Coble.
“We have a great group — we work hard every day,” Krieger-Coble said.
Ferentz also referenced Krieger-Coble’s cousin, George Krieger-Kittle. Krieger-Kittle is the son of Winfield-Mount Union alum Jan Krieger and former Hawkeye player and current Oklahoma State assistant coach, Bruce Kittle.
“C.J. (Fiedorowicz) is a big, physical guy. The others, (including) Henry (Krieger-Coble), are more of a receiver-type,” Ferentz said.
Despite what could be considered added competition, Krieger-Coble says he doesn’t feel any added pressure to make sure he’s one of the two who get on the field.
“I know that whoever is out there is going to do an awesome job. I just have to make sure that I hold up my end of that,” he said.
Krieger-Coble saw action in nine games last year, with one start at second tight end.
He got his first start, first catch and first touchdown (16 yards) all in one game, a 42-17 loss to Michigan on Nov. 17.
“I don’t know if I expected last year to be like that, but I was ready if it were to happen,” Krieger-Coble said. “It’s nice to have all those done; last year was pretty exciting.”