By Pete Ruden
Growing up playing football, nearly every player’s dream is to make it to the NFL.
On Monday, a number of Hawkeyes moved closer to those dreams, working out at the team’s Pro Day in front of 39 NFL scouts.
But there is still a lot of work to do. Josh Jackson, James Daniels, Josey Jewell, Akrum Wadley, and Sean Welsh were the only former Hawkeyes invited to NFL Combine, making Monday’s Pro Day even more important for the rest.
Those who worked out and didn’t receive an invitation to the Combine include linebackers Ben Niemann, Bo Bower, and Kevin Ward; offensive linemen Ike Boettger and Boone Myers; defensive linemen Nathan Bazata and Drew Ott; wide receiver Matt VandeBerg; running back James Butler; fullback Drake Kulick; and long snapper Tyler Kluver.
“It is what it is,” Niemann said. “I kind of use it as a chip on my shoulder. Obviously, I would have loved to have been there and had the opportunity to showcase myself, but that’s not the reality, so I did the best I could [Monday].”
There is a lot riding on the results of these workouts. Although some players have four years of film on the field, they know these tests are important when it comes to their future.
“You can always be a little nervous, but it wasn’t anything crazy,” Bower said. “You prepare for so long, you know you’re ready. You know what you need to do, you get down in your stance, and you just run.”
On top of not receiving an invitation to Indianapolis, some players had to conquer another battle: injuries.
Boettger, Myers, and Butler all suffered injuries at some point, and Boettger and Myers were both kept out of action, missing the Pinstripe Bowl — what would have been their final game in the Black and Gold.
The paths of Boettger and Myers resemble that of former Iowa offensive lineman Cole Croston, who has forged a career with the New England Patriots.
Croston missed four games in his senior season before making it back for his final start in Iowa’s Outback Bowl loss to Florida. Now, despite the injury, he has seen game action on the roster of a perennial NFL power.
“He’s been back working out, and we’ve talked,” Myers said. “It’s a process. You’ve just got to keep grinding every day and get better.
“You see guys that go through that and then go on to have good careers, and that really drives you to follow in their footsteps.”
Despite some of the hardships, one advantage all of the competitors have going for them is that they played at Iowa, which is known for developing talent to play at the next level.
Iowa’s pro-style offense combined with the work of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle usually bodes well for draft prospects in the past, and this year is no different.
“Guys who have been in this program and who have been successful in the NFL said it has given them a tremendous advantage just by the way we do things here, so I trust their word for sure,” Niemann said.