Next men in: Meet 11 Hawkeyes who could emerge as vital players in 2019

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The 2019 Iowa football team has plenty of star power, from preseason all-American defensive end A.J. Epenesa, to dual pillars at offensive tackle in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, to senior quarterback Nate Stanley, a three-year starter.

It’s enough to earn the Hawkeyes a No. 19 ranking entering Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. season-opener vs. Miami of Ohio.

But everyone knows that, in order for this to be a truly special season at new-look Kinnick Stadium, Iowa will need some newcomers to emerge.

Here are 11 players, most of whom have not yet played a snap for the Hawkeyes, who could end up having a big impact on the team’s fate. On offense, defense and special teams. As starters, or just in spot duty as injuries occur. No role is too small when a game is on the line in what is expected to be a competitive Big Ten Conference race.


Fresh off a sterling four-year career at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, where he recorded 12 career interceptions, Belton quickly caught the approving eye of defensive coordinator Phil Parker. And any Hawkeye fan knows how much that means. Parker is not prone to high praise, but you can tell he really likes the fire he’s seen so far from Belton, who could work his way into the rotation as a strong safety and can certainly be an asset on special teams. Think Amani Hooker, or Geno Stone. Then remember this name in seasons to come.


The Cedar Falls product checks in at a rangy 6-foot-4 and is quickly pushing for playing time, Parker said this week. There’s no question he can help on special teams, where linebackers often flourish. But by the end of the season, as the wear and tear builds, Campbell is also showing that he may be a trustworthy option for meaningful snaps.

Iowa tight end Drew Cook talks with reporters during Hawkeyes football media day, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at the University of Iowa outdoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa.


Everyone knows Cook’s pedigree and his Hawkeye story to date. The son of Iowa tight end legend Marv Cook came to Iowa as a quarterback. When that didn’t pan out, he moved to the position his father manned, but has yet to catch a pass. That should change this year.

Cook is listed as the second-stringer behind Nate Wieting entering the season and showed in Iowa’s Kids Day scrimmage that he has the trust of the quarterbacks, displaying strong hands while snaring passes in traffic. He probably won’t be an all-American like his father, but it would be no surprise to see Cook come up with some key receptions to keep drives alive.

Iowa linebacker Dillon Doyle (43) tackles running back Tyler Goodson (15) during a Hawkeyes football Kids Day scrimmage, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.


There’s pedigree at work here, too. Doyle is the son of longtime Hawkeye strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. He played in four games a year ago, preserving an extra year of eligibility, and has impressed enough to be listed as the backup middle linebacker entering the season. He’s smart and physical. And most importantly, dependable. He’ll get his chances in some big games this season. And then he could become the next three-year starter at the position.


A walk-on on this list? Well, sure. But Evans is no ordinary walk-on. A star quarterback at Ames High School, he is a hard-hitting defensive player with a nose for finding the football. At 240 pounds, he may be a bit undersized for the line, but he’s also too quick for many offensive tackles to handle.

Evans has a chance to be used as the Hawkeyes’ new “rush end” in situational duty. And all it would take is one big forced fumble for him to prove his worth and set himself up for more playing time once Amani Jones graduates.

Iowa defensive back D.J. Johnson (12) looks to the sideline for a call during a Hawkeyes football Kids Day scrimmage, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.


Johnson is the first likely starter on this list. The 5-10, 183-pounder out of Indianapolis is set to replace Amani Hooker at the new “cash” position. He’s smaller than Hooker, but faster. And he has a knack for disguising and timing his blitzes well.

Johnson also will likely get time as a traditional cornerback. He’s going to be a fixture in Phil Parker’s secondary for at least two more years.

Iowa offensive lineman Mark Kallenberger smiles while talking with teammates during Hawkeyes football media day, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at the University of Iowa outdoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa.


Kallenberger started the season-opener last year at tackle and acquitted himself well. But there is no room for him just yet at that position. So the 6-5, 291-pounder is also getting some work at guard.

Iowa likes to go seven- or eight-deep on its offensive line. Kallenberger, a blue-chip recruit out of Bettendorf, will be in that mix and will no doubt be called on somewhere down the line. How he performs will give coaches and fans a taste of things to come when Jackson and Wirfs are no longer around.


This is shaping up to be one of the great stories in Hawkeye history. Linderbaum came from Solon last season intending to play defensive tackle. Coach Kirk Ferentz had other plans, switching the hard-working rookie to center in December. Linderbaum took to that move so well that he’s not only going to start in the middle of the Hawkeyes’ offensive line, but there’s no coach even talking about a Plan B. This is his job, and Linderbaum gets to run with it.

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon signs autographs for young fans during a Hawkeyes football Kids Day scrimmage, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.


Nixon’s Hawkeye debut has been two years in the making, and it’s been much-anticipated by fans. At 6-5, 305 pounds, he is a true run-stopper in the Jaleel Johnson mold in the middle of an Iowa defense that carries some question marks into the season.

The former basketball star also moves very well for his size, so pass-rushing is part of the package as well. Nixon is a reserve as the season starts, but will get plenty of snaps. His productivity will be one of the key storylines of the season.

Iowa wide receivers Nico Ragaini, right, and Oliver Martin talk between drills during a Hawkeyes football Kids Day scrimmage, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.


Meet the new slot receiver. Same as the old slot receiver? It sure seems like Ragaini is in the same mold of Nick Easley, who led Iowa in catches the past two seasons. He’s shifty and able to get open in tight windows. He is reliable, catching every pass that comes his way. He can create enough space to break loose for yards after the catch. He’s got the Nate Stanley seal of approval.

There’s no reason to think Ragaini can’t come up with 50 catches this season. He’s a player Iowa needs to help move the chains.

Iowa punter Michael Sleep-Dalton (22) keeps himself entertained on the sideline with teammate Caleb Shudak, right, during a Hawkeyes football Kids Day scrimmage, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.


We saved the punter for last only because this list is in alphabetical order. Sleep-Dalton comes to Iowa by way of Australia, City College of San Francisco and Arizona State. He averaged 41.8 yards on 121 punts in two years at the latter stop.

The graduate transfer might be just what Iowa needs to win the field position battle in closely contested Big Ten games. He had 19 punts of 50 yards or more at Arizona State, with 36 of them pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line. That’s why he’s here.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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