IOWA CITY (AP) — One of the many issues plaguing Iowa's passing game last season was a lack of explosiveness. The Hawkeyes averaged 5.8 yards per attempt, 116th out of 124 FBS teams.
They might have unearthed some help from an unlikely source.
The Hawkeyes typically don't bring in many junior college transfers, and they've almost never counted on them to make an immediate impact. But they're desperate for a spark after finishing 4-8 and 2-6 in the Big Ten last season, so they added one of the nation's top junior college wideouts in Damond Powell.
The Hawkeyes had 12 receptions of 30 yards or more in 2012 — while Powell was averaging 30 yards per grab for Snow Community College in Utah.
“We wouldn't typically recruit a junior college player unless we felt they had that opportunity, so that motivated us there,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Thursday during the team's media day. “The challenge is how quickly can they catch up to the speed of what we're doing and then also learn what we're doing.”
At this point, it's impossible to gauge how ready Powell will be by the season opener against Northern Illinois on Aug. 31.
He is the only junior college player in Iowa's latest recruiting class, and he arrived on campus less than a week ago after finishing his academic commitments at Snow.
Powell wasn't available to reporters Thursday because of Ferentz's rule restricting first-year players from speaking with the media.
But the coaching staff said Powell has fit right in so far.
“He's got a great personality, No. 1,” Iowa wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. “And with that great personality is his ability as a player. I think you'll see Damond Powell be a guy that can stretch the field vertically. He's a fast guy.”
Powell, who won't turn 21 until Oct. 31, starred in basketball, football and track for Rogers High in Toledo, Ohio. But he failed to qualify academically for Division I football, so he signed with Snow and focused on developing into a viable high-major receiver.
After a season of adjustment, the 5-foot-11 Powell blossomed into one of the most explosive players in junior college football.
He had 1,231 yards receiving last season on 41 catches. He also had 14 TD catches — twice as many as the Hawkeyes had as a team last season.
Despite a late start, Powell could still develop into a legitimate option by the end of camp if he can show the coaching staff he can be trusted with the ball.
“He can run fast. He does like football, and we've got to find some ways — before he gets a grasp of everything — to still use his talents,” Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “He doesn't understand everything right now. So it's our job to bring him along, but even while we're bringing him along, to make sure we have some things to say 'Hey, this is your play.'?”
Powell will almost certainly get his shot at significant snaps.
It's not like the Hawkeyes have a ton of other options for quarterbacks Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard — who are in a three-way race to be the new starter.
Senior Kevonte Martin-Manley, who led Iowa with 52 catches last season and tied former Hawkeye Keenan Davis for the team lead with 571 yards, is assured of a starting spot.
The rest of Iowa's wide receivers simply don't have much of a résumé yet.
Coaches are high on 6-2 sophomore Tevaun Smith, and senior Jordan Cotton was one of the few bright spots at the end of last season. But promising redshirt freshman Cameron Wilson left the program this summer, and reserve Don Shumpert enters his senior season with just six career catches.
There might not be a team in the country more in need of an explosive wide receiver than Iowa.
The Hawkeyes don't expect Powell to average 30 yards a catch again. But if his speed and play-making ability translate to the Big Ten, he could eventually become crucial to Iowa's offense.
“Let's not put the weight of the world on him, like he's going to be the savior of Iowa football,” Kennedy said. “He's still a first-year player, so we've got to continue to coach him.”
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