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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Bruce Kittle will have the grill fired up Friday night.
On the menu: Burgers, chicken, sweet potatoes, grilled veggies … and one big, medium-rare steak for his son.
It’s a worthy celebration for a football family. George Kittle, the rising tight end from Iowa, is about to find out where his professional journey begins.
The second and third rounds of the NFL Draft, a window in which Kittle could get selected, begin at 6 p.m. Friday. The fourth through seventh rounds are Saturday.
Kittle is one of four Hawkeyes expected to get drafted by Saturday; the others being defensive back Desmond King, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and quarterback C.J. Beathard.
“Just can’t wait to get the opportunity to play somewhere and prove that I belong,” Kittle said this week. “These last few months … I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
Twenty-five years ago, a bad knee cut short his father’s NFL journey.
Bruce Kittle was a senior offensive lineman and a co-captain on the 1981 Hawkeye team under Hayden Fry. Early in that breakthrough season, he tore an ACL but didn’t have surgery. Kittle returned to play in the 1982 Rose Bowl.
But after getting into a camp with the Washington Redskins, he re-injured the knee.
His NFL experience was over.
Bruce went on to a variety of careers that included being a pastor and, later, a Division I football assistant at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. His latest roles are as a criminal-defense attorney in Cedar Rapids and a proud father.
“He just loved football, and he still does,” George Kittle said. “Just to be able to share this experience with him, from his coaching and playing years — it’s kind of nice to have him as a coach and a guide.”
Bruce’s advice to his son following his final game as a Hawkeye: Don’t get a side job. The NFL is your job. That’s your focus.
So, George has been training in Iowa City and living at his parents’ house, along with girlfriend and former Iowa women’s basketball player Claire Till, near Brown Deer Golf Course,
“The rent’s cheap, which is nice,” Kittle quipped. “My dad’s all about taking away the distractions.”
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Dad’s advice and Kittle’s freakish athleticism have proven to be a winning combination.
Kittle has rocketed up draft lists. In what is an exceptionally deep tight-end class, Pro Football Focus ranks him fifth in the draft at that spot.
“We have some guys pushing to make him our No. 3 tight end,” PFF senior analyst Steve Palazzollo said, “because he blocks really well; blocks well on the move. Whereas a lot of these other guys are glorified wide receivers. He’s just a much better all-around player. He’s not your big, mauling, in-line tight end, but I love watching him block on the move.”
Kittle’s phone started ringing a lot more after he posted a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He backed that time up with exceptional performances in other key drills.
Kittle has worked out for the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Who wouldn’t want a 6-foot-4, 247-pound tight end who is excellent at running, jumping and blocking?
PFF, which provides data to 27 of the NFL’s 32 teams, grades Kittle with the second-best blocking rating among tight ends in this draft class. According to PFF, Kittle yielded just one quarterback pressure in his final two seasons.
“All positive,” Kittle said. “It helps that Iowa is a pro-style offense. We’ve got great coaches. That kind of gets me a step ahead of some guys, because it’s an NFL-ready offense. Not having any off-the-field issues is another big thing.”
Dad hasn’t been the only family member to provide valuable NFL advice.
His cousin, former Hawkeye tight end Henry Krieger Coble, went from an undrafted free agent to making the Denver Broncos’ 2016 roster.
Whenever Kittle gets drafted and wherever he goes, he knows that the hard work will just be beginning. Krieger Coble told him it'll feel like being a walk-on.
“He said (NFL rookies) start from scratch,” Kittle said. “They have to learn everything and prove themselves again. I’m really looking forward to that.”