Overall growth at the receiver position and the emergence of Tyler Goodson at running back changed the way the Iowa football program utilized its tight ends last season.
That wasn’t totally unexpected.
With T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft after leaving the Hawkeyes early, last season was a year of transition for Iowa at tight end but what transpired creates an expanded vision for the spot in 2020.
Working with senior Nate Wieting and junior Shaun Beyer, true freshman Sam LaPorta emerged as the season progressed and was the Hawkeyes’ leading receiver as Iowa concluded its 10-3 season with a 49-24 victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl.
The 6-foot-4, 242-pound Highland, Ill., native caught a career-high six passes for 44 yards in the victory over the Trojans after providing hints of his potential with critical catches during late-season games against Northwestern and Nebraska.
LaPorta said following the bowl win that his effort was a byproduct of offensive cohesion.
“When everybody is working together, it allows us to play fast, physical and together,’’ LaPorta said. “It allowed me to make some plays and get singled out. I made those plays. It was a great opportunity for me and the rest of the team.’’
That helps position LaPorta for opportunities at a position which will likely be more involved in the play-making portion of the Hawkeye offense this season.
While blocking will remain part of the job description for Iowa tight ends, expanded possibilities in the passing game exist.
After being used primarily on special teams through the first seven games, LaPorta caught 15 passes for 188 yards last season, averaging 12.5 yards per gain.
Beyer, 6-5, 244-pound senior from Cedar Rapids Kennedy, averaged a team-leading 16.7 yards on his seven catches last season.
The bulk of connections in the passing game with tight ends came during the final games of the season.
After combining for 10 catches for 121 yards through eight games, Hawkeye tight ends caught 22 balls covering 301 yards during the final five games of the year.
LaPorta had plenty to do with that.
Much like Hockenson, LaPorta was a receiver at the high school level. He caught 68 passes for 1,457 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior at Highland High School in the eastern suburbs of St. Louis and brings that skill set to the field as he prepares for his sophomore season.
Beyer is a fifth-year senior who shared the second line on the depth chart with LaPorta late in 2019. He brings strong blocking skills to the position.
LaPorta and Beyer are the extent of Iowa’s game experience at tight end.
Josiah Miamen, a 6-4, 235-pound redshirt freshman from Dunlap, Ill., was one three Illinois prep tight ends Iowa signed in its 2019 recruiting class, joining LaPorta and now converted defensive lineman Logan Lee.
Miamen caught 25 passes for 500 yards as a high school senior while playing in the Peoria area.
Three walk-ons, redshirt freshman Jackson Frericks of Cedar Falls, Iowa, junior Tommy Kujawa of Greendale, Wis., and junior Bryce Schulte of Cedar Rapids, return as well.
Iowa will also add two incoming freshmen to mix at tight end this fall.
Elijah Yelverton, a 6-6, 220-pound Texas native who enrolled at Iowa in January, selected the Hawkeyes from a collection of 36 offers that included Auburn, Baylor, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Penn State
A 6-7, 220-pound Columbus, Ohio native, Luke Lachey was a receiver at the prep level at Grandview Heights High School. The son of former NFL lineman Jim Lachey entertained offers from 28 programs including LSU, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
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