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On Iowa Hawkeye defense: Jack Koerner is healthy, Jack Campbell is hungry, Matt Hankins eager for Purdue game

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa Hawkeye football team's media tour continued Wednesday with nine defensive players sharing their thoughts about the upcoming season.

On Tuesday, we heard from the offense. On Thursday, it will be the coaching staff.

More:Leistikow: 10 things we learned from Iowa football interviews, including Alaric Jackson's vegan diet and a new name at receiver

Here are six things that stood out from Wednesday's session:

Jack Koerner has recovered from accident, and revealed two surprise names in hunt for playing time at safety

Iowa safety Jack Koerner didn’t want to re-live the “freaky accident” he was involved in on June 12, mainly out of respect for his friend, Cole Coffin. Koerner, a graduate of West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, said he’s fully recovered now and ready to reclaim his spot as a starter.

Coffin was more seriously injured in the personal watercraft accident that happened on Lake of the Ozarks. He is getting accustomed to using a prosthetic leg and also is studying at the University of Iowa, meaning Koerner gets to visit often.

“He’s shown a lot of grit and a lot of strength,” Koerner said of Coffin. “I don’t know if anybody else can handle it better than he has.”

Previously:Iowa football: Safety Jack Koerner injured in Missouri boating accident

Koerner’s veteran status will be beneficial for the Hawkeyes, who saw safety Geno Stone enter the NFL ranks a year early. Koerner, a junior, said Dane Belton and Kaevon Merriweather have been manning the other safety spots, which includes the cash position in Iowa’s 4-2-5 defense, during practices.

Koerner added this tantalizing nugget: Redshirt freshman Quinn Schulte, who came to Iowa from Cedar Rapids Xavier as a wide receiver, is also in the mix for playing time at safety. So is heralded true freshman Reggie Bracy of Alabama. The youngsters have been able to get up to speed quickly.

“The competition between all of us has certainly made all of us better,” Koerner said.

Iowa safety Jack Koerner closes is to tackle Iowa State wide receiver Tarique Milton in last year's Hawkeye win. Koerner, who was involved in a watercraft accident in June, says he's fully recovered and is now the elder statesman at the back end of Iowa's defense in his junior year.

Matt Hankins is eager to test himself against Purdue stars, hoping NFL personnel take notice.

That competition extends to cornerback, where senior Matt Hankins is hoping a strong season will be a springboard to an NFL career as it has been for Desmond King, Josh Jackson and Michael Ojemudia before him in recent years. Hankins said it was that track record at Iowa that led him to want to leave his native Texas and become a Hawkeye in the first place.

Hankins is already anticipating the season-opening matchup with Purdue and its star wide receivers Rondale Moore and David Bell. He said he’s been watching film of the Boilermakers constantly for two weeks.

“I’m definitely excited for the challenge, and ready for it,” Hankins said.

Hankins, who is slated to be Iowa’s left cornerback, recorded the first two interceptions of his career a year ago, but he’s been in the lineup since his true freshman season of 2017. One thing that’s kept him there is his increasing physicality, a necessity when playing for coaches Phil Parker and Seth Wallace.

“They want to see your toughness for real,” said Hankins, who is 6-foot, 185 pounds. “So it’s definitely something I’ve improved on a lot.”

Riley Moss and Julius Brents are the front-runners to play opposite Hankins.

Chauncey Golston is coy with answers, but emphatic about this: He never thought about opting out of season

Chauncey Golston is the only returning starter on Iowa’s defensive line, and he was in a playful mood with the media Wednesday. When it came to questions about which end of the line he will man this year, whether he’ll occasionally line up at tackle in passing situations or even which of his teammates will be counted on to produce turnovers, Golston would only smile and say: “You’ll see soon.”

Golston, whose mother is a nurse back in Michigan, had expressed some concerns in May about whether it was wise to attempt a football season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he said he felt more at ease about things when the Big Ten Conference announced its return-to-play plan in August.

“Not one ounce of doubt,” Golston said. “I love this game. I couldn’t imagine not playing it. … I couldn’t sit out, opt out or do anything crazy like that.”

Daviyon Nixon had a lot weighing on his mind this offseason, but is focused on football

Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon initially appeared to be reluctant to play this season with so many unknowns about the novel coronavirus. He said Wednesday, though, that his questions arose after the Big Ten made an initial decision to call off fall sports.

“It was just the simple fact that if our (university) presidents … didn’t want us to play, then it must be significant enough for us to keep our lives rather than just going out and playing football every day,” Nixon said.

When the decision was reversed, Nixon was happy to jump back in for a nine-game season set to start Oct. 24 at Purdue.

He’s had to keep his focus on football while his hometown endured turmoil and tragedy, however. Nixon is from Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a Black man named Jacob Blake was wounded by a white police officer last month, setting off demonstrations that left two people dead.

“It’s just a lot of bad things going on there,” Nixon said. “Just praying that my friends and family stay as safe as they possibly can.”

Jack Campbell added some serious size in bid to be new starting linebacker

If Jack Campbell does become Iowa’s next starting middle linebacker, he’ll bring a lot of size to that position. Campbell is a sophomore who somehow managed to grow one inch and add 25 pounds from a year ago, at least according to the preseason roster.

Campbell is up to 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds (he was at 6-4, 218 in December), and smiled when he confirmed that listing to reporters Wednesday. Campbell played in 11 games a year ago, recording five tackles. He said he learned much from watching senior Kristian Welch, and may now be in line to replace him after Dillon Doyle transferred to Baylor in the offseason.

Campbell grew up in Cedar Falls and said he actually rooted for Northern Iowa as a youngster. But he’s well aware of the Hawkeyes’ tradition of producing talented linebackers, going back to Christian Kirksey, Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Anthony Hitchens.

“Those are all guys that you can go and watch tape on. It just blows my mind the plays they make,” Campbell said.

As for this year’s defense, Campbell said he feels more comfortable in Year 2 and is ready to be the captain of the unit if called on.

The goal is simple, Campbell said: “You get 11 guys playing fast, good things are going to happen.”

Nick Niemann has some Super aspirations, thanks to his brother, Ben

Eight months ago, Nick Niemann was in attendance when his brother, Ben, won a Super Bowl as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. It gave Nick even more motivation to make it to the NFL himself, something the siblings had talked about since childhood.

Ben Niemann played linebacker at Iowa first. Nick came on board two years later. Last year, their father, Jay, joined the coaching staff helping to guide defensive linemen.

Nick Niemann is a senior now and in line to start at weakside linebacker. Then he’s hoping to join his brother again in the pro ranks.

“There’s no one more deserving than him,” Nick said of his brother’s championship season. “It makes me want the same thing.”

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

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