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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — For most football players, fall camp isn’t at the top of their list of highlights. University of Iowa freshman Manny Rugamba isn’t your typical football player.
Rugamba, a 6-foot, 172-pound cornerback from Naperville, Illinois, is one of 10 true freshmen to see playing time during the No. 11 Hawkeyes’ first two games (both victories) this season.
“The thing I enjoyed most was fall camp because it was football every single day,” Rugamba said. “If you messed up, you could always come back and do better the next day or in the next practice.”
Rugamba was offered a scholarship by at least 14 colleges, including schools from the Big Ten Big 12, and Atlantic Coast conferences. Most of his suitors liked his potential as a wide receiver.
“Then I was in contact with Iowa and they said they would like me to play corner,” Rugamba said. “I saw an opportunity here and I liked coach (Phil) Parker and the staff a lot. I felt the switch to corner would be beneficial.”
It might not have been a coincidence that Rugamba’s roommate for fall camp was senior cornerback Greg Mabin, who began his career with the Hawkeyes as a wide receiver.
“Every day after practice I would watch film with (Mabin) or ask him questions about the playbook — it’s a lot different than high school, the defensive playbook is huge,” Rugamba said. “Everything I have known so far with plays, technique, and little things come from guys like Greg, Brandon Snyder, and Desmond.”
Desmond, of course, is reigning Jim Thorpe Award-winning senior cornerback Desmond King. A year ago King was recognized as the premier defensive back in the country; he is the only Hawkeye listed in front of Rugamba on Iowa’s depth chart at right cornerback.
Rugamba watched King’s development during his time in the Iowa program and said that made a positive impact during his recruitment.
“Coming out of high school, Desmond wasn’t one of the top tier guys,” Rugamba said. “(Iowa) is a good developmental program. It doesn’t matter how good you were in high school when you have guys like coach Parker and (head) coach (Kirk) Ferentz that develop you like they did Desmond and a lot of these guys.”
The stability of Iowa’s program is another attractive incentive for Rugamba.
“When you have Hayden Fry and coach Ferentz — two coaches in the last 38 years — it shows they are doing something right and everybody on the staff echoes what coach Ferentz is saying,” Rugamba said. “Some programs have staff members that say different things than others. Here, everybody knows what they are doing and they are on the same page.
“In college football, people lose their jobs left and right. This is a stable place.”
“When you have Hayden Fry and coach Ferentz — two coaches in the last 38 years — it shows they are doing something right and everybody on the staff echoes what coach Ferentz is saying. Some programs have staff members that say different things than others. Here, everybody knows what they are doing and they are on the same page.” — UI freshman cornerback Manny Rugamba
Rugamba has earned game reps in the secondary as well as being a member of the kickoff, punt, and punt return teams. Whenever Parker calls for a scheme that requires an extra defensive back, Rugamba receives the nod. During Iowa’s 42-3 victory over Iowa State in the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series, Rugamba made two tackles with a pass breakup.
“Manny is a young man we really liked in high school,” Ferentz said. “He has come in and done a nice job starting in June. He did a good job in the classroom and his workouts have gone well.
“When we got on the practice field, he competed at a high level. He has good ability and attitude and he works hard. We have been able to integrate him on basically all of our special teams and he also comes in as our substitute defensive back for pass purposes.”
When the Hawkeyes host North Dakota State on Sept. 17, it will be Rugamba’s third straight Saturday in Kinnick Stadium. He described the game day atmosphere in Kinnick as “everything I expected and more.”
“The first game I had jitters,” Rugamba said. “I would go out there on third-down packages and the crowd really gets going on third down. Last Saturday with the black and gold game is something I have only seen in pictures: going out there and playing under the lights, the crowd is insane. Sometimes if we were in time out, I would look up and it was surreal.”
In his senior season of high school, Rugamba led Naperville Central to the Class 8A quarterfinals with playoff wins over Brother Rice and Aurora (Waubonsie Valley). He caught 112 passes for 1,615 yards and 11 touchdowns and recorded 30 solo tackles and 15 assists with six interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Rugamba, who has eight brothers and sisters, is majoring in marketing.