Harty: The top-10 most explosive Hawkeyes

Pat Harty
Iowa City Press-Citizen

When they go to write the book on the history of the Iowa football program, the chapter on explosive offensive skill players won't require many pages.

It's no secret that speedy receivers and game-changing running backs and return specialists have been few and far between at Iowa, making you appreciate even more the ones who earned that distinction. Players like Ozzie Simmons and Willie Fleming and Tim Dwight, all of whom competed during different eras, left a similar mark with their explosiveness.

Big plays had been absent from the current Iowa football team until last week, when senior receiver Damond Powell had a 72-yard touchdown reception and freshman running back Jonathan Parker scored on a 60-yard sweep on consecutive plays in the first quarter, powering Iowa to a 45-29 victory at Kinnick Stadium.

Tim Dwight (6) was a two-time all-American at Iowa and still holds the Hawkeyes’ record for career punt returns for touchdowns with five.

And don't be surprised if Saturday's game at Maryland is impacted by big plays, considering the Terrapins are ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total defense but also feature some of the conference's top skill players, most notably receiver Stefon Diggs.

All this focus on big plays got me thinking about who would rank as the 10 most-explosive offensive skill players in the history of Iowa football. I'm not referring to the top-10 offensive skill players at Iowa, but rather the 10 who could take it to the house on any given play.

That's why Fleming made the list over more celebrated running backs such as Sedrick Shaw and Shonn Greene.

So after doing a little research and consulting with legendary Iowa radio announcer Bob Brooks, here is my top-10 list.

• TIM DWIGHT: The former City High star ended his Hawkeye career with five punt returns for touchdowns and with 1,102 punt return yards, both of which were Big Ten records at the time. Dwight is believed to be the only player to return punts for touchdowns against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. He also held the team record for career receiving yards (2,271) until 2010 when Derrell Johnson-Koulianos became the all-time leader in receiving yards.

As a senior in 1997, Dwight was a consensus first-team All-American and finished seventh in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy. He played for nearly a decade in the NFL, his explosiveness on display as a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons when Dwight returned a kick 94 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

"I would pick Tim Dwight because when you talk about explosive, that's what he was," Brooks said of who would top his list. "He was an electrifying player."

Dwight also was a star in track and field in high school and in college. His sprinter's speed is partly why he tops the list.

• TAVIAN BANKS: The Bettendorf native had the rare skill of being able to cut without losing speed. Combine that with his vision, and Banks was a big play waiting to happen. He still holds the UI single-game rushing record of 314 yards, which came against Tulsa in 1997. Banks rushed for 1,691 yards as a senior in 1997, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. His yards-per-carry average from that season is the highest among Iowa's top-35 single-season rushing performers.

• WILLIE FLEMING: The Detroit native was like a shooting star who graced fans with his talent only so briefly. He played only one season at Iowa in 1958 but made the most of it by scoring 11 touchdowns, some in spectacular fashion. Fleming scored three touchdowns during a 37-14 victory at Michigan and rushed for 136 yards on just nine carries as Iowa defeated Minnesota 28-6 to clinch the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth. He also scored two touchdowns in Iowa's 38-12 beat-down of California in the 1959 Rose Bowl.

"Willie was what I would call a flier," said Brooks, who has covered the Iowa football team for more than a half century.

• BOB JETER: His explosiveness took center stage with Fleming at the 1959 Rose Bowl when he rushed for 194 yards on only nine carries against California. Jeter set a Rose Bowl record for the longest run with an 81-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter. The Weirton, W.Va., native also bolted 41 yards to set up Iowa's second touchdown of the game. Jeter played 11 seasons in the NFL as a defensive back, the first eight with the Green Bay Packers and the last three with the Chicago Bears. He was part of the Packers' teams that won the 1965 NCF Championships and the first two Super Bowls.

• RONNIE HARMON: He wasn't blessed with blazing speed, but the Queens, N.Y., native made up for it with his uncanny vision and his ability to make defenders miss in open space. Harmon was similar to Tavian Banks in that he could cut without losing speed. Harmon started pretty much from the day he arrived on campus in 1982, playing receiver in his first two seasons before shifting to running back during the glory years under Hayden Fry. Harmon is the only player in school history to surpass 2,000 yards in receiving and rushing.

• OZZIE SIMMONS: The Fort Worth, Texas, native earned the nickname "Ebony Eel" for his slithery runs that often turned into lengthy touchdown runs. He scored from 47 yards in his first Big Ten game in 1934 and had eight touchdowns from 50 yards or more as a Hawkeye.

• NILE KINNICK: I wasn't sure about putting who many consider Iowa's greatest football player of all time on the list until Brooks told me that Kinnick would definitely be on his list. Kinnick's 1939 season in which he led Iowa to a 6-1-1 record and became the school's only Heisman Trophy winner was the stuff legends are made of, as he threw 11 touchdown passes and led the nation with eight interceptions at a time when teams seldom passed. The Adel native also participated in 107 of his team's 130 points during the 1939 season.

• EMLEN TUNNELL: Before he became a star defensive back in the NFL, Tunnell was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for the Hawkeyes. The Philadelphia native led Iowa with 262 receiving yards on just 12 catches in 1947, with four of his catches resulting in touchdowns. Tunnell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967 after setting an NFL record with 79 interceptions. He was the first black man to play for the NFL's New York Giants.

• DERRELL JOHNSON-KOULIANOS: His career ended in shame with his arrest on drug charges in 2010, but there is no denying his success as a playmaker. Johnson-Koulianos is Iowa's second all-time leading receiver with 2,616 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Ohio native also starred as a kick returner, scoring touchdowns on kick returns against Ohio State in 2009 and Minnesota in 2010.

• FRED RUSSELL: He had to be explosive to make up for his lack of size as a running back, standing 5-8 and weighing only about 185 pounds soaking wet. Russell is Iowa's fifth all-time leading rusher with 2,760 yards despite playing extensively for only two seasons in 2002 and 2003. The Inkster, Mich., native finished his career with 17 touchdowns and a 5.4 yards-per-carry average.

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