Nov. 13, 2012
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Quietly, Jordan Cotton is becoming one of the most dangerous and versatile players in the Big Ten Conference.
Catching passes, returning kicks, and knocking would-be punt returners loopy are all included in his job description. That isn’t bad for a guy who entered his fourth season in the program with four receiving yards on one reception.
Cotton is a redshirt junior from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where he played running back and cornerback in high school. In those days, he primarily took handoffs from the quarterback, rushing for more than 3,000 yards and 42 touchdowns on his way to first-team all-state honors as a junior and senior.
Recruited as a wide receiver, Cotton red-shirted in 2009, and found himself near the bottom of a deep position group that included Marvin McNutt, Jr., Derrell Johnson-Koulianios, Colin Sandeman, Don Nordmann, Trey Stross, Paul Chaney, Jr., and Keenan Davis.
The phrase of the postgame Saturday for Cotton was “keep pushing.” It is something he knows the current Hawkeyes — now sitting at 4-6 overall — have to do with a road game at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., approaching in five days. It is also a strategy that served Cotton well individually.
His statistics line after 10 games is: 12 catches for 172 yards (14.3 yards per catch) and a touchdown; 15 kick returns for 419 yards (27.9 yards per attempt) and a touchdown; and five tackles. In Saturday’s game against Purdue, Cotton grabbed two passes and returned three kicks for 83 yards. His 108 all-purpose yards led the Hawkeyes.
Cotton is the top kick returner in the Big Ten, with Indiana’s Tevin Coleman second, averaging 3.7 yards less per attempt. Cotton’s numbers put him 16th among all Football Bowl Subdivision players.
Jordan Cotton’s statistics line after 10 games is: 12 catches for 172 yards (14.3 yards per catch) and a touchdown; 15 kick returns for 419 yards (27.9 yards per attempt) and a touchdown; and five tackles. In Saturday’s game against Purdue, Cotton grabbed two passes and returned three kicks for 83 yards. His 108 all-purpose yards led the Hawkeyes.
“We have had a lot of players who have found their niche on special teams, and got their careers started in that regard,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Jordan has made huge strides in that area this year. He has done a great job with our kick return team; we have risen to the top of the Big Ten in that area and he is a big, big part of that.”
When all 10 games are included, the Hawkeyes are fourth in the league in kickoff returns (22.5 yards per return); in Big Ten games only, Iowa is on top of the conference with a 28.1 average on 14 kicks.
Cotton’s three tackles against the Boilermakers tied for 10th on the team with freshman defensive tackle Darian Cooper. Purdue punt returner Frankie Williams became acquainted with Cotton twice Saturday, and he came away from both plays clearing out cobwebs.
On a second-quarter punt, Cotton drilled Williams for no gain; in the third quarter, the two met again on a punt, with Williams losing two yards.
“The ball was punted and I had to go down and make a play,” Cotton said. “He didn’t fair-catch it, so I had to run through it and make the play.”
Earning the position of gunner came because Cotton excelled during his time playing there on scout team. He lived out his motto of “make a play” against Purdue.
“These last few years I worked at the gunner on scout team and I gave those guys a good look,” Cotton said. “Now I’m getting opportunities to play gunner in games and I keep pushing forward. If he’s not going to fair-catch it, I have to come up and make a play. If he fair-catches it, just be around him in case he muffs the punt and then make plays.”
“He did a great job as one of the gunners on the punt team going down and getting tackles,” Ferentz said. “He’s been a fun story that has developed and started to emerge.”
Although big hits on special teams drew most of the oohs and aahs Saturday, it was hardly the complete work of Cotton. He opened the game with a 36-yard kickoff return and one of his pass receptions moved the chains on third down.
“After the Minnesota game, I’m finally getting an opportunity to play a lot of positions on special teams, and on offense. It’s really working out for me,” Cotton said.
Including and since Iowa’s 31-13 win against the Golden Gophers, Cotton has nine pass receptions for 115 yards, 14 kick returns for an average of 28.1 yards, five tackles, and one rush for two yards.
“Wherever the coaches put me that is my role and I have to try to make plays when it happens,” Cotton said.