IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s senior tight end has built a ton of buzz following a productive campaign in 2021.
Sam LaPorta raised eyebrows across the Big Ten when he passed up on the NFL to return for his senior season. After all, he led the Hawkeyes in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, plus he earned third-team, All-Big Ten honors.
LaPorta is arguably one of the best players on Iowa’s roster. He used his knowledge of the game to mentor the younger tight ends throughout spring ball. And with 15 practices in the books, the Illinois native is encouraged by what he witnessed from the unit.
The way the tight ends blocked, ran their routes and caught balls, improved over the past three weeks in LaPorta’s eyes. However, he refuses to let the group be complacent and is always striving for perfection.
“I feel like I’m a leader for the room, I’m a veteran player on offense as well and have a lot of experience to lean back on,” the LaPorta said. “I try to coach those young guys up, so they don’t make the same mistakes as I did.”
Playing tight end at Iowa means more and LaPorta has done a great job of instilling that in the youngsters. There’s a reason the program is dubbed Tight End U. So he’s trying to be one of the best to ever play the position. Which is why LaPorta decided to return for 2022.
The six-foot-four, 249-pounder went back to the basics during the offseason and worked on his fundamentals.
“I think my first step is something I was really conscious of this spring, and I tried to improve that a lot to get me in the right position at the right time,” he said.
By perfecting his first step, LaPorta believes it’ll boost his numbers on the gridiron. That’s a scary thought for opposing Big Ten defenses. It’s no mystery that his 53 catches in a single season, were more than George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant ever had, and they’re all on NFL rosters.
The former three-star prospect is trying to raise the bar high for Hawkeye tight ends. Being in the position that he’s in comes with a lot of responsibility. So LaPorta is leading by example on and off the field in hopes of becoming the ideal student-athlete. The program is that special to him and he could easily be the face of it this fall. That’s why LaPorta won’t trade his experience in Iowa City over the last three years for the world.
“The fanbase, my teammates as a whole, the University, just the vibe around campus, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” the 21-year old said. “I’m getting my degree here, I get to experience my senior year with all of my friends, and the fans that are here, it’s just a great place.”
LaPorta feels the NFL money can wait, because once he finally hangs up his helmet, he’ll still have his education. That’s mind-boggling, considering it’s trendy for elite players to bypass their senior year to enter the NFL Draft. Not to mention Iowa has had three tight ends drafted over the last five years, including two in the first round.
Many Iowa fans believe LaPorta will be the next in line, considering he has 95 career receptions for 1,129 yards. Regardless, he’s doing what’s best for him and his family at the moment. If that means putting the NFL on the backburner to play another season for the Hawkeyes, than so be it.
LaPorta stands firm behind his decision to return and plans on making the most out of his opportunity.
“That’s something I’ve always dreamed of, it (NFL) is in my near future I hope, and I’m going to continue to work hard here for the Hawkeyes until then.”