How does Iowa put so many players in the NFL?

IOWA CITY, IOWA – The Iowa football program is one that outside of its home in Iowa City, doesn’t get a lot of notice from the ever-growing fanbase of college football. When you talk to people about Iowa football, they’ll mainly think of the upsets the team produces, such as their last second winagainst second-ranked Michigan in 2016 or 31-point trashingof sixth-ranked Ohio State in 2017.

But, Iowa has become well-known in another regard: producing NFL talent.

Since the 2000 NFL Draft, which would’ve been the first for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have had 70 different players drafted by NFL teams, tying Auburn for the 18thmost by any program in that time period. When you consider there are 130 Division I FBS programs in the entire country, that is a very high number.

Marc Morehouse, the Iowa football beat writer for The Gazette, for over the past 20 years, had simple reasonings as to why Iowa’s NFL pipeline has seen an increase.

“Strength and Conditioning is one, of course Chris Doyle deserves a lot of credit because, not only is he helping build the players that are here currently, but he’s helping build former players in the NFL,” Morehouse said. “Guys like Marshall Yanda who come back and train, that rubs off on the younger guys to have Marshall Yanda come in who is one of the gods of the NFL for offensive line play.”

Chris Doyle has been Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach since 1999, and is seen as one of the premier strength and conditioning coaches in the country. Sophomore offensive lineman Kyler Schott says that workouts go beyond the weight room when it comes to Coach Doyle.

“We don’t just go in there and lift weights, we have more of purpose for being in there,” Schott said. “We read books with Coach Doyle, they give us a lot of stuff to look into, a lot of stuff that can make us better. He knows so much about the body and what we need to do to become better football players.”

Doyle’s program is just as effective now as it was during Tyler Luebke’s days as an Iowa Hawkeye. Luebke was a walk-on defensive tackle for Iowa from 2000 to 2004, playing with some legendary Hawkeyes such as Robert Gallery and Dallas Clark, and credit’s Doyle’s program to helping him eventually see the field as a meaningful player.

“Coach Doyle was adamant about doing things right, so for me, my experience was that I struggled right away because I didn’t do my form correctly, I would have to scrap all the weight and start from ground zero,” Luebke said. “He wouldn’t let you improve until you did it right, and I think that sort of mentality goes above and beyond just lifting weights with the program. So do it right or don’t do it at all.”

Since 2000, all of the programs ahead of Iowa in the number of total prospects drafted, have won every national championship in that time frame, except one program. That program is Texas, who is only two spots behind Iowa with 67 players drafted since 2000.

This stat, however, can beg the question: “Why doesn’t Iowa have the success that an Alabama or Clemson has?” Marc Morehouse provided another simple, yet insightful answer.

“It’s a team game, and Iowa is building its players mostly from the upper Midwest and a lot from the state of Iowa,” Morehouse said. “Alabama is building from where great football players are from, a lot of speed guys and a lot of athletes from the southeast United States.”

Morehouse did mention that Iowa has tapped into the talent pipeline in the southeast region recently by recruiting running backs such as Alabama-native Shadrick Byrd and Georgia-native Tyler Goodson.

PHOTO GALLERY: Pictures from Iowa’s final practice of the 2019 Spring football season.

The competition at Iowa is also been seen as big factor as to why they’re players have great individual success. As former Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive coordinator Mark Banker once said“I bet their practices are like a bloodbath, because both sides of the ball kind of emulate that,” he said.

While they aren’t literal bloodbaths, Kyler Schott says that competition is what pushes the walk-ons and underclassmen to become as good or better as those before them.

“Going against those guys push you to be better, they’ll push you to do things you’ve never done before,” Schott said. “When you’re lifting weights against Tristan [Wirfs], you want to lift as much weight as he does and when you’re running next to AJ [Epenesa], you want to try and keep up with him because those are the guys at the top and you want to stay with them.”

As for future NFL talent to leave Iowa City, thanks to the historic draftingof tight ends Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson, Marc Morehouse says the exposure will help quite a bit in recruiting.

“I think ratings might help, last year the draft was put on network television on ABC and they had the highest ratings they’ve ever had,” Morehouse said. “Iowa had two guys in the first round, how many times did you hear Iowa on Thursday night? You heard them quite a lot with Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson. It’s a great ‘advertisement’ to have out there for recruits.”

It also helps when Iowa currently has two players, at least, projected going in the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft with aforementioned players, offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs and defensive end AJ Epenesa.

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