IOWA CITY – Jake Gervase finds himself traveling a familiar path these days.
The Iowa defensive back from Davenport Assumption is trying to catch the attention of somebody, anybody, that will give him an opportunity to take his game to the next level.
“All it takes is one, as long as it’s the right one,’’ Gervase said.
Gervase finds himself in the same situation as a number of his Hawkeye teammates, hoping for a late-round or free-agent opportunity as NFL teams assemble their 2019 collection of new talent.
He put his best on display at Iowa’s recent pro day and is talking with any NFL team willing to listen as the league works toward the April 25 start of its three-day draft.
“I’m doing anything I can to put myself in a position to have an opportunity,’’ Gervase said. “I need to make enough of an impression to at least give myself a chance to get into a camp somewhere. Then, it’s up to me.’’
That’s where Gervase believes his edge can be found.
The 6-foot-1, 212-pound free safety who led the Hawkeyes with 89 tackles last season has in some ways been through it all before.
“I’m looking at this the same way I looked at things when I walked on at Iowa,’’ Gervase said. “There were no guarantees then, no assurances that it would all work out. It was on me to prove myself and show others that I could compete and make an impact at this level.’’
Gervase made that happen, working his way from a contributor on special teams to a reserve role and ultimately a starting opportunity on defense where he was playing his best football last fall as a senior.
He started 10 games as a junior, collecting 58 tackles, intercepting three passes and breaking up six more.
Last season, he earned honorable mention all-Big Ten honors, became a three-time academic all-conference selection and in addition to leading Iowa in tackles, Gervase tied for second in the Big Ten with four interceptions and was selected as a permanent team captain.
He was at his best in the final game of the Hawkeyes’ 9-4 season, recording six tackles, breaking up a career-high four passes and returning an interception in the end zone 28 yards in the fourth quarter of Iowa’s 27-22 Outback Bowl win over Mississippi State.
That body of work provides the foundation Gervase hopes to build on.
“I wasn’t any different than any other little kid. I always wanted to play professional football,’’ Gervase said. “I’ve always been willing to put in the work and do what it takes to be able to compete. That doesn’t change now.’’
Since January, Gervase has been working along with other Hawkeyes in preparing for the draft.
He said the help of Iowa strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Doyle and his staff has been invaluable in helping him and his teammates prepare for the pro day and the draft.
Gervase said their experience helped him focus on the priorities of NFL teams and positioned him to turn in solid performances at the Iowa pro day last month.
“I see this as my one chance to make it happen. If things don’t work out, I’m prepared to move on with my life, but I want to see where this can lead. I feel like I have the ability and I know I have the desire to compete at the next level,’’ Gervase said.
“It’s a matter of finding the right fit and then being given the chance to prove that I belong and that I can help a team in any way they need help, special teams, defense, whatever, I just want a chance.’’
Gervase said the path he followed on his way to earning a scholarship with the Hawkeyes provides him with a roadmap now.
“I feel like I know what it takes to show people what I can do and then make the most of any opportunity that I can obtain,’’ Gervase said. “Some of this comes down to marketing yourself and your abilities and in some respects, that’s no different than what you have to do when you come into college as a walk-on.’’
Understanding that creates a foundation for Gervase to build on.
“What I’m trying to do isn’t easy, but it isn’t supposed to be easy,’’ he said. “It wasn’t easy being a walk-on, but that experience and what I learned from it led me to where I am now. It also has helped given me the confidence that I’m ready to take the next step.’’
Gervase has talked with representatives from a handful of NFL teams and is confident he will have an opportunity beyond the draft, ready to follow a path other Hawkeyes have traveled.
He points to linebacker Ben Niemann as an example.
Niemann went from being an undrafted free agent signing of the Kansas City Chiefs a year ago to starting for the NFL team as a rookie last season.
Those kinds of Iowa stories give Gervase and other Hawkeyes hope.
“The coaches here do a great job getting us ready for the next level,’’ Gervase said. “Nothing will be given to me beyond a chance to prove myself and like a lot of other Iowa players who have made the most of that opportunity, I’m ready to do the same.’’