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
ST. PAUL, Minn. — When the World Champion New England Patriots scout for talent, they seek three qualities. Undrafted free agent offensive lineman Cole Croston possesses them all.
Croston, 24, a 2017 graduate of the University of Iowa, is listed as second-team left guard for the Patriots, who play Philadelphia on Sunday in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia revealed what he wants in players:
“They have to be smart, they have to be tough, and they have to be athletic enough…in that order,” Scarnecchia said Monday at Super Bowl Media Day in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. “We brought Cole in as a free agent and we love the kid. He has done a nice job. He has been on the varsity the whole year — hasn’t played much, but we feel his time will come in the future.”
Croston’s story isn’t a complete rags-to-riches tale, but nothing was handed to the tall, skinny kid from Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. He used his 6-foot, 5-inch frame to average 12 points and nine rebounds in 67 basketball games for Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School. On the football field he was first-team all-district as an offensive lineman and punter.
His college offer list consisted of one small school for basketball and partial scholarships for football at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Croston’s father, Dave, lettered in football for the Hawkeyes from 1984-86 and was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the third round of the 1987 NFL Draft. One way or another, Cole was following his father’s path to Iowa City.
“I decided I was going to go to Iowa and be a student or go to Iowa and play football,” Croston said. “Luckily the football part worked out. Coach (Reese) Morgan asked me to walk on and I took it in a heartbeat. I weighed about 220 pounds. It was quite the investment (for the Hawkeyes) and I’m glad he took it.”
Croston came to practice with a chip on his shoulder. His path was not unlike that of several walk-ons before him. Croston added weight, muscle, and playing time. He became a two-year starter at offensive tackle and was named third-team All-Big Ten his senior season.
“I have to give a lot of thanks to (strength and conditioning) coach (Chris) Doyle,” said Croston, who now weighs 315 pounds. “He put a lot of weight on me and a lot of strength that I needed. Coach Brian Ferentz and coach Kirk Ferentz helped transform me to the player I am now. Brian taught me so many things that I wouldn’t have learned without him.”
When the 2017 NFL Draft was held from April 27-29, Croston was not among the 253 players selected. When it was time to sign a free agent contract he noticed that players who worked hard stuck around and enjoyed solid careers with New England. He heard that every Patriot — drafted or not — was given an equal opportunity.
“You get the feel around here that it doesn’t matter if you’re a first round or undrafted guy, everyone is going to get their chance to play,” Croston said.
He met with Scarnecchia, who put him through a chalk talk session.
“We did test stuff on the board, some things they do at New England, to learn whether I was able to understand that or not,” Croston said.
The No. 1 trait the Patriots were looking for was intellect, and Croston was well-prepared after five years in Iowa’s program.
There was more. Croston started games at right tackle and left tackle at Iowa and occasionally would get reps at guard during camp. That versatility paid off as a rookie in the NFL.
“They have a saying here: ‘The more you can do,'” Croston said. “I was able to show that I could play multiple positions and I was able to take things from the classroom onto the field and they appreciated that.”
Croston spent the entire season on New England’s 53-player roster. His first action came Nov. 19 during a 33-8 victory over the Raiders in Mexico City.
As a youngster, Croston spent Super Sundays with family at the home of his uncle or grandparents. Many of his family will spend Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, watching Croston and the Patriots perform on football’s biggest stage.
“I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make the team,” Croston said. “I was able to grind it out and earn a roster spot. Throughout the season, we put our heads down, went to work and had a pretty good record. We won a couple (playoff) games and now we’re in the Super Bowl.”
Croston won’t be the only Hawkeye-turned-Patriot at Sunday’s Super Bowl. Offensive lineman James Ferentz and wide receiver Riley McCarron are also in the Twin Cities as members of New England’s practice squad.