IOWA CITY, Ia. — When Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette decided to take the NFL route, they left a huge void in Iowa’s receiving room.
The duo combined for 48 receptions, 576 receiving yards and caught six of Spencer Petras’ nine touchdown passes last season. Now all of their experience, production and leadership over the past three years is in the rearview mirror.
However, the Hawkeyes have several wideouts ready to step up to replace the tandem, including Nico Ragaini. The junior is the team’s leading returning receiver and poised to make a name for himself in Big Ten play.
The Connecticut native has looked promising thus far, with 62 catches, 530 receiving yards and three total touchdowns over the past two seasons. Ragaini has been focusing on his craft and building chemistry with Petras, who he’s roommates with. The two connected four times apiece against Purdue and Penn State.
Ragaini understands there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being Iowa’s most experienced receiver. It’s a reason why he’s confident it’s going to be a smooth transition for Petras with the new arsenal of pass catchers.
“My first year I got a taste for it and last year I feel like my role increased a little bit,” Ragaini said. “This year with the two older guys gone, I’m hoping to up my role as much as I possibly can, I just want to make the team as good as they possibly can be.”
The former three-star prospect wants to become more of a possession receiver this fall, who consistently moves the chains and comes up big for the offense in the clutch. The fact that Ragaini plays for ‘Tight End U’ he knows he’ll have to share catches with safety net Sam LaPorta.
Regardless of the matter, Ragaini has no problem with the offense spreading the wealth. He just wants to be ready to deliver the goods when his time comes.
“That’s always the goal is to be the No. 1 go-to guy,” he said. “I just want to make Spencer feel connected to me as much as he possibly can and have all the trust in me to throw me the ball on third downs.”
The six-foot, 193-pound Ragaini is versatile in the slot like Smith-Marsette and can contribute in Iowa’s running game with reverses and jet sweeps. He also caught at least one pass in seven of the Hawkeyes’ eight games in 2020.
Ragaini is very excited about what he has seen in the wide receiver room. Everyone is dialed in, soaking up Brian Ferentz’ scheme like a sponge, and most importantly they’re all having fun.
“We are definitely a brotherhood in the receiver room,” Ragaini said. “We’re a room filled with a bunch of different characters, and if you came into one of our meetings you’ll probably laugh the whole entire time you were in there.”
Being the veteran of the unit and guiding the younger receivers is what Ragaini has enjoyed the most during summer workouts. He’s expecting the entire offense to be in sync by the time fall camp rolls around. And rightfully so, considering Iowa will be hosting a team that finished in the top-15 last season and return a plethora of starters.
Which is why every Hawkeye is putting in the extra work this summer to make sure the team doesn’t get off to an 0-2 start again.