112318-Iowa-Football-012

Iowa cornerback Matt Hankins puts a hit on Nebraska's Kade Warner during the Hawkeyes' win over Cornhuskers last season at Kinnick Stadium.

IOWA CITY — It seems no matter which direction Matt Hankins turns these days, there’s competition.

In practice, he is one of four Iowa cornerbacks with starting experience battling for a spot in the lineup in the Hawkeye secondary.

Once practice begins, he finds himself battling Iowa receivers for any ball that comes their way.

And once practice ends and he gets a chance to go home, Hankins finds himself thrust into the search for the answer to some of the world’s most challenging questions.

Things like, "Is Buffalo Wild Wings a fast-food restaurant?"

That’s what you get when you live with two other defensive backs, Geno Stone and Michael Ojemudia, and Iowa’s top two returning receivers, Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

Hankins found himself in the middle of the fast-food feud started by Stone and Smith-Marsette, a verbal wing war that eventually involved everybody in the house and lingered more than an hour and a half.

"Literally, they called two different Buffalo Wild Wings and asked them," Hankins said. "They both told them it was fast food, but I don’t really think so."

That’s life in Hankins’ world, where once practice ends and an evening at home begins, conversations frequently turn into a critique session of what transpired on the practice field.

"The receivers, they’ve told me I sometimes shade in too far when I’m playing press coverage, and I’ve told them I watch their back leg and hips to shake them," Hankins said. "Just little things to help each other."

Hankins, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior from Lewisville, Texas, and senior Michael Ojemudia are the two most experienced cornerbacks in the Hawkeye secondary.

Both have 10 career starts on their resumes, and both missed time a year ago, allowing sophomores Riley Moss and Julius Brents to start six and five games, respectively.

That has created plenty of competition on the back end of the Hawkeye defense, competition Hankins said is helping make the entire group better.

"We have a lot of good experience back there, and we’re pushing each other every day. That’s only going to help us as a team," Hankins said.

Iowa is working to replace starting safeties Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker, and defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker experimented with lineup combinations during spring practices.

Hankins spent time not only at cornerback but at safety and the cash position, the hybrid defensive back/linebacker position Hooker lined up at during the final two thirds of the 2018 season.

He welcomed the opportunities there and believes they have helped him gain a greater grasp on the workings of the entire defense.

"At corner, it’s mainly about your man and the quarterback. That’s all you’re concerning yourself with," Hankins said. "At safety, you’ve got to read the line, running back, quarterback, receivers, linebackers, so it’s very different."

He sees benefits in gaining that knowledge.

"I’ve been learning the whole defense. Last year, it was just my normal position. Now, I know safety, corner, cash, a little bit of what the linebackers are doing," Hankins said.

He plans to put that use, realizing that Iowa cornerbacks have a history of rising to the forefront as they grow into their positions.

Hankins watched another Texas native, Josh Jackson, do just that in his only year as starter on the back end of the Iowa defense.

"I look up to Josh for what he was able to do, the way he stepped in and dominated," Hankins said. "He understood the position, understood how to prepare, and was ready when it was his time."

Hankins will keep working to make this his moment and achieve one other badge of honor for a cornerback, his first career interception.

Ojemudia has picked off three passes, Moss grabbed a pair last season, and Brents recorded one as part of a defense which leads the nation with 41 interceptions over the past two seasons.

"When you make a friend, they talk about, ‘When are you going to be get a pick?’ I just tell them, ‘Hey, it’s coming. When God blesses me, it’ll come.’"

And until then, there is always fast food to debate about.

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