By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa – University of Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta does a double take when watching film from his freshman season as a Hawkeye.
The film that stands out is from Week 9 at Northwestern. After not catching a pass in Iowa’s first six games, LaPorta had a coming out party of sorts, finishing with two receptions for 43 yards in the Hawkeyes’ 20-0 victory in Evanston, Illinois.
“It looks like a completely different person out there for me,” said LaPorta. “With a full offseason of weight training, watching film and learning the offense better and more in depth with (offensive coordinator) Brian (Ferentz), I see a significant difference in my game and the way I process things.
“I have come a long way, and I am proud of myself for that because I needed to come a long way.”
LaPorta had a steep hill to climb when he joined the program out of Highland (Illinois) High School. During his prep career, LaPorta was an all-state selection as a junior and senior as a wide receiver. He finished his career ranking second in Illinois history in receiving touchdowns (50) and third in receiving yards (3,793).
“Sam is a good player. He has developed a lot and has gotten to the point where he understands coverage well and knows how to beat coverage, which is what you want of a veteran tight end. He’s a veteran tight end that can make a lot of plays.”Sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras on LaPorta
“It was hard coming in and learning a new position and coming into a Big Ten university and playing tight end,” said LaPorta. “I had a lot of great guys helping me last year with Nate Wieting, Drew Cook and Nate Stanley behind me, pushing me forward and trying to help me get better.”
LaPorta says those older players helped him work his way into a special teams role early in the season. LaPorta kept working hard, stayed positive and eventually got a chance.
“He was with us last year, doing good things on special teams, and with each week, we saw a little bit more confidence,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “We had more trust in him and then when we actually started playing him, he did good things and kept getting better. By the end of the year, he was a pretty good player, and now it’s a continuation of that process.”
Over the final six games, LaPorta caught 15 passes for 188 yards. He caught two-or-more passes in four games, including six receptions for 44 yards in a Holiday Bowl victory over Southern California.
LaPorta started the 2020 season where he left off, starting and making five receptions for a career-high 71 yards Oct. 24 at Purdue. The five receptions tied for the team high and the yardage total was tops on the team.
“Sam is a good player,” said redshirt sophomore Spencer Petras. “He has developed a lot and has gotten to the point where he understands coverage well and knows how to beat coverage, which is what you want of a veteran tight end. He’s a veteran tight end that can make a lot of plays.”
LaPorta has had the luxury of learning from with some of the “who’s who” among Iowa tight ends.
“I have had a lot of conversations with T.J. (Hockenson), (Dallas) Clark and a little with (George) Kittle,” said LaPorta. “They tell me to be my own person and not to be someone I am not. They tell me to play the Iowa way: physical, tough and do the little things.
“It’s awesome to have mentors like that who can lead you down the path you want to go.”
The Hawkeyes return to action Saturday, hosting Northwestern at 2:30 p.m. (CT) inside Kinnick Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.