LeGrand, Render get their shot on Iowa's O-Line

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Lucas LeGrand and Keegan Render are living in parallel.

The sophomores grew up in Iowa excelling at basketball and football, grew some more and concentrated on the latter, enrolled at the University and Iowa and grew some more. The Hawkeye coaches assigned them to share a room and hundreds of meals, and on Saturday fate threw them onto the football field together.

Naturally, they found themselves side by side on the offensive line, practically joined at the hip, pushing around a weary group of Iowa State Cyclones in a 42-3 Iowa victory at Kinnick Stadium.

Keegan Render was all smiles when he signed on to play football at Iowa, and the Indianola native is even happier now that he's played some significant snaps at guard for the Hawkeyes.

“We knew exactly what each other do and where we’re going to be,” Render said Tuesday. “We’re good friends, so that helps us when we’re on the field.”

There could be a repeat performance this Saturday, when No. 11 Iowa (2-0) hosts North Dakota State (2-0) at 11 a.m. (ESPN2).

LeGrand, a Dubuque native, got his first start at center last week after James Daniels suffered a knee injury in practice; he’s atop the depth chart again as Daniels is questionable to play. Render, of Indianola, may be in line to make his first start after replacing right guard Sean Welsh against the Cyclones and playing most of the second half. Welsh is still hobbled, but coaches are hopeful he’ll be able to play Saturday.

Render, the top backup on the line, can play either guard or tackle and is preparing at all positions, as usual. He saw snaps late in blowouts last year and in Week 1 this year, but had never been in the heat of a game until Saturday. He said he knew his moment might come, but also was hoping it wouldn’t, since that would mean an injury to one of his teammates.

“I was next to (offensive line coach) Brian (Ferentz) the whole time, because we knew there would probably be another injury. I didn’t really have time to think, honestly. I just ran on the field and got in the huddle and tried to get ready for the next play,” Render said.

“You never like to see a guy go down, like Sean hobbling off the field, but I knew I would be the next one in so I was ready to go.”

Render said he was satisfied with his performance, but knows there’s always work to do. LeGrand, standing 10 feet away Tuesday while talking to his own gathering of reporters, said the same thing.

LeGrand arrived at Iowa as an offensive tackle, playing there during a redshirt freshman campaign. One day, Brian Ferentz told him he’d be moving to center. He didn’t flinch, even though his previous experience at that position consisted of one half of one game as a high school sophomore, taking over when the usual center sustained a concussion.

“He told me I’m an athletic guy, I can pick it up pretty quick,” LeGrand said of Ferentz’s instructions.

Iowa takeaways: It's a grand debut for Lucas LeGrand

LeGrand learned everything he could from Austin Blythe last year, and followed around James Ferentz (Brian’s brother) when he returned to Iowa City in the summer. Both of those guys are on NFL rosters. Not a bad tandem to emulate.

By midweek last week, LeGrand was being told he was the next man in, the word arriving while he was attending his grandmother’s funeral. On Saturday, he said, the nerves subsided as the game went on. He had one very visible penalty, but also many powerhouse blocks, showing off the 291 pounds of muscle he’s carrying these days.

Iowa ran for 198 yards; LeGrand and Render did their part. The film review bore that out.

“I obviously didn’t play amazing or anything like that. But they were cool with some of the mistakes I made. We all mistakes, everybody does. They are all correctable things that I can get fixed,” LeGrand said.

“Just mental mistakes. I made probably four or five out there that were just not smart plays, just not being where I was supposed to be.”

LeGrand estimated he has added 50 pounds since coming to Iowa. Render is up to 308, the most on the Hawkeyes’ two-deep. He’s also been asked to play every position except center during practices.

“On every play you should know what the tackle is doing next to you, what the center is doing,” Render said. “Now that I’m used to it, everything comes natural. It’s almost the same thing across the board, and everybody talks and communicates, so it helps.”

Iowa takeaways: Recruiting revelation, Wadley's knee, future schedules

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said his biggest concern when LeGrand got the call was getting shotgun snaps delivered in the same spot every time. LeGrand admitted that early on in camp his snaps had a tendency to veer to the left. There were no problems Saturday, as Beathard completed 19-of-28 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

“We don’t change our game plan based on who’s in there because we expect them to make the blocks and make the plays that the other guys make,” Beathard said.

“That says a lot about those guys that they’re just ready and prepared to go for whenever they were called.”

LeGrand and Render both spoke about the legacy of strong offensive line play at Iowa, and how they don’t want to be a weak link in that chain that stretches back through the years. LeGrand said thinking about it brought him comfort, not a feeling of extra pressure.

“You’ve just got to think about all the people that have played here before you and just try to live up to their standard,” he said.

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