IOWA CITY — Through his first three seasons at Iowa, finding the end zone has seemingly been easier for Akrum Wadley during his Iowa football career than weighing in at 190 pounds with regularity.
But as he prepares for his senior season, Wadley has finally added that to his list of accomplishments.
His goal is to get to 195 pounds by the time Wyoming arrives at Kinnick Stadium for the season opener on Sept. 2. Wadley figures a few extra pounds could help him carry a potentially heavier workload for the Hawkeyes during the upcoming season.
In addition to building on the 1,081 yards he rushed for as a junior, Wadley is positioned for a more expansive role in the passing game and may find himself returning punts, kicks or both during his senior season with the Hawkeyes.
“I’m getting ready to help the team in any way I can,’’ Wadley said. “That’s what I’m here to do.’’
Wadley toyed with the notion of an early exit for the NFL but ultimately heeded the advice of his mother and opted to return for his senior season at Iowa.
“What she said made a lot of sense,’’ Wadley said.
His mother, Sheronda Phelps, is also a high school girls basketball coach. She reminded her son that he still had a lot to prove.
Wadley accomplished plenty during his junior year at Iowa, topping 1,000 yards on 168 carries and catching 36 passes for 315 yards. He reached the end zone 13 times while helping the Hawkeyes to an 8-5 record and an Outback Bowl berth.
“There’s a lot more out there for me,’’ Wadley said. “She helped me see that.’’
Wadley split the workload in the Hawkeye backfield with LeShun Daniels a year ago and both rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
With Toks Akinribade and Toren Young expected to work their way into the mix this season, Wadley will likely assume a more prominent role in an Iowa running game that figures to be the strength of the Hawkeye offense at the onset of the season.
Some of the 213 carries that Daniels enjoyed last season will likely shift to the shifty Wadley, who arrived at Iowa weighing 167 pounds and has maintained his elusiveness as he has worked to gain strength and weight.
“Maybe with those extra pounds I’ll be able to starting running a few people over,’’ Wadley said. “That would be something different.’’
He’s also counting on the added strength to help him become more effective as a pass blocker.
“I want to become a more complete back. That’s what I want to get done this season and it’s a big part of why I decided to come back,’’ Wadley said. “I still have a lot of room to grow there and that is going to help me improve as a player. I’m confident in that.’’
Durability has not been an issue. He averaged a career-best 6.4 yards per carry a year ago in more than double the 83 carries he had as a sophomore.
He led Iowa with 23 carries for 115 yards in its win over Michigan last season, a total he matched on 22 carries against Florida in the Outback Bowl.
Wadley is preparing for a similar workload each week during the upcoming season, feeling like he can provide 25 carries each game if needed.
“I’m ready to prove that I can be that kind of a back,’’ he said. “That’s something I haven’t had a chance to do because we’ve had other experienced backs, but I’m going to be ready to do that this year. I’m looking forward to that challenge.’’
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz believes good things will happen for the Hawkeyes when the ball is in Wadley’s hands.
He likes the potential he sees in Akinribade and Young as capable backs in the Big Ten.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be what you saw last year,’’ Ferentz said. “Boy, you’d like to get Akrum a lot of carries and we’ve talked about match-ups. Akrum’s a guy that’s good in space. So maybe you create some match-ups where Akrum is in space, and you have another guy in the backfield who can carry the ball.’’
Ferentz sees part of his responsibility being finding ways to effectively use the talents of a player who has developed into a reliable component of the Hawkeye offense.
“My job is simple, to keep pushing him,’’ Ferentz said. “I think that is any coach’s job. Our job is to teach. Our job is to bring these guys along. I’m excited about a lot of things, but I would tell you he has a long way to go. I’d also tell you he’s going to get there. We’ll keep pushing him.’’
Wadley welcomes that.
“I’m here to become the best player I can become. I’m showing up ready to work every day,’’ he said. “I feel like that I understand more now. It’s going to help me get to where I want to get.’’
Nobody laid a hand on Wadley as Iowa worked its way through its 15 spring practice sessions.
As he worked his way back from minor knee surgery in January, that was by design.
Wadley participated in non-contact drill work, but was not put in a position to be tackled throughout spring drills. Coach Kirk Ferentz said that had as much to do with providing ample work for the next generation of Hawkeye backs as anything.
“The fact that Akrum didn’t do much work out there was probably a good thing because (Akinribade and Young) need every rep they can get,’’ he said following Iowa’s spring game.
The 19th-year Iowa coach said he has seen Wadley grow in other ways this spring, starting with his commitment to gain weight which will help position him well not only for the upcoming season but for the future.
“You get to be my age and it’s funny to meet people who don’t like to eat,’’ Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s just kind of weird. But, he’s been really consistent (in working toward gains) so to me, he gets it. He understands. He’s focused on the right things.’’
Ferentz said the addition of a few extra pounds should enable Wadley to receive additional reps in games.
“He does a pretty good job making yards per carry,’’ he said. “If we can get him more carries, that’s a good thing for us and more chances for him to make a good play.’’
Wadley did get the opportunity to field kicks and punts this spring.
It’s a role Desmond King stepped into a year ago and one Wadley is interested in filling during the upcoming season.
Ferentz said there is a chance Wadley will earn that opportunity with continued growth during fall camp.
“I think we’re going to need every weapon we can in every phase,’’ he said. “If a guy can help us, kind of like Desmond, if a guy can help us move the ball or advance it, that’s a good thing.’’
Wadley wants to make that happen.
“It’s been a learning experience, but it’s something I can do and I’m ready for it,’’ Wadley said. “I did it in high school, so it’s something I know I can do.’’
Wadley had plenty of time to work on that this spring.
“It was kind of tough not being out there, but I get where the coaches were coming from,’’ he said. “They need me healthy this fall and I need to be healthy this fall. I want this to be a big season. The other guys got a lot of snaps, and that’s good for them. I’ll be ready for when it matters.’’