IOWA CITY – Monday proved to be a good day for Iowa football players.
With scouts from all 32 NFL teams and three CFL teams looking on, many ran faster and jumped higher than ever during the Hawkeyes’ annual pro day.
In the middle of it all, Iowa seniors and scouts also caught a glimpse of one former Hawkeye crafting his own story built on a foundation of hard work and perseverance.
Tight end Jake Duzey ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds, hoping to catch the attention of scouts who didn’t get a chance to watch Duzey work a year ago after two serious knee injuries all-but denied him his entire senior season.
He also recorded a 34-inch vertical jump and recorded 23 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds.
“It’s been a crazy road. It’s tested me, challenged me. But, I’m back to where I need to be,’’ Duzey said. “My knee doesn’t bother me at all. I didn’t want to just give it up, I’m just looking for an opportunity, one last chance to live my dream.’’
Duzey entered his senior season in 2015 as the Big Ten’s top-returning receptions leader among tight ends, having caught 36 passes for 392 yards as a junior in 2014.
But he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee while catching a pass in the end zone during the next-to-last practice in the spring of 2015.
He saw only a handful of snaps in the fall, then re-injured the same knee a little over a week before Iowa’s Rose Bowl appearance, requiring another lengthy rehab and testing his grit once again.
He did earn a bachelor’s degree in finance from Iowa in December, 2015, and began extended rehabilitation work with hopes of one day getting a pro day opportunity that would consist of more than the interviews he was able to do with teams a year ago.
“There were some scouts who remembered me and said it was good to see me back on the field running well,’’ Duzey said. “I hope they remember.’’
Coach Kirk Ferentz and tight ends coach LeVar Woods encouraged Duzey to continue to train.
He returned to his home state of Michigan, interviewed for a couple of full-time positions, worked part-time jobs at an outdoors store, as a driver for Lyft and delivered food for Order Up, a carry-out food delivery service. He also continued to make progress as he trained.
“The NFL has always been in the back of my mind. I’ll always have the finance degree to fall back on, but I wanted to make one last, good run at this and see if I can make it work,’’ Duzey said.
Eventually, he was reunited with former Hawkeye quarterback Jake Rudock of the Detroit Lions and Duzey found himself running routes for passes Rudock was throwing as he trained.
“We were able to get on the same page pretty quickly. It was like old times,’’ Duzey said.
Iowa seniors welcomed what they saw as Duzey worked Monday.
“He was a guy I looked up to when I got here,’’ tight end George Kittle said. “He taught me a lot and he had a rough go of it as a senior. To see him back out there, I respect that so much. It was impressive.’’
Offensive lineman Cole Croston called it motivating.
“He’s been through a lot and to see him come back and perform the way he did, it says a lot about him and how you have to keep pushing to get to where you want to be,’’ Croston said. “He had a great day. A lot of guys did.’’
Monday’s pro day provided Duzey with a chance to show what he was capable of doing.
After completing his 40, Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle told Duzey he accomplished what he set out to do.
“He said I showed everybody I could run again,’’ Duzey said. “It was my chance. I had to make the most of it. Now it’s a matter of seeing what happens. I gave it my best, and hopefully it can lead to something. I know I’ll keep working. I want to make this happen.’’