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Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan discusses what should be expected from true sophomore A.J. Epenesa. Chad Leistikow

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Personal connections are the starting point to finding success in college football.

Who you know helps coaches identify and, ultimately, persuade recruiting targets.

Who you know also helps coaches … become better coaches. And that’s where a connection between Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has recently benefited the Hawkeyes.

Parker played for (and coached for) current Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Through that relationship, Parker met Smart, a fellow Saban protégé.

As a result of that connection, Parker and three other Hawkeye defensive coaches were welcomed for two days this offseason in Athens, Georgia. There, they studied how the reigning Southeastern Conference champions (and national runners-up) do business.

One of those Iowa assistants, defensive line coach Reese Morgan, spoke at length about the impact of that Georgia visit during a Wednesday-night appearance on Hawk Central radio on 1460 KxNO in Des Moines.

“They went out of their way to be helpful to us, just some guys from the Midwest,” Morgan said.

He termed the trip "a really, really productive thing."

Parker and Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace spent their time with Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker; Morgan and recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Kelvin Bell learned from Bulldogs defensive line coach Tray Scott.

They brought a list of questions. They watched the athletes train and sat in meetings.

Among Morgan’s observations: He was surprised they knew a lot about Iowa’s program. He came away impressed with Georgia’s football building, but remained convinced that Iowa’s is the best in the country.

And this.

“They’ve got great athletes, but they also are great people,” Morgan said. “The players we met were unbelievably polite. Nice kids. Sometimes you think because a kid’s a highly recruited kid, he’s going to act a little differently. But the culture there is very, very strong. The work ethic is amazing. And the coaches were unbelievable. They just gave us so much time.”

Obviously, Morgan wasn’t going to publicly divulge X-and-O specifics, if there were any relayed.

But he did say there was one overall takeaway from their interactions with Georgia assistants.

“The big message is don’t be so concerned about the scheme as much as the fundamentals, the details, getting things done right and the process,” Morgan said. “… I think that probably helps reinforce what we believe in, what we’re doing. Obviously, we have to get better at everything we do, though.”

Another thing Iowa gleaned from being at Georgia was the importance of rotating several bodies on the all-important defensive line. That’s been a priority for the Hawkeyes over the past two seasons after coaches saw their line wear down toward the end of Iowa’s historic 12-2 campaign in 2015.

Morgan said Wednesday Iowa fans could see “anywhere from eight to 11” bodies rotating on the defensive line in 2018. A few bullet points from the interview:

  • Defensive end Parker Hesse, a 34-game starter who ended spring practices in a walking boot, should return sometime in June. “It’s a foot injury. I’m sure he’ll be ready to go,” Morgan said. “He is a tough son of a gun. Very passionate about the game. It’s going to be hard to keep him out of drills.”
  • Defensive tackle Matt Nelson should be on track to return as well after tearing his labrum toward the end of the Pinstripe Bowl. He’s also taking the M CAT in June to try to get into medical school. “He is probably one of the most respected guys in our room,” Morgan said, “because of his interactions with other people.”
  • Lastly, Morgan is excited about the flexibility that was developed this spring in Sam Brincks and Chauncey Golston. Both defensive ends slid inside to shore up Iowa’s less-proven tackles. Morgan went out of his way to praise Golston, a redshirt sophomore from Detroit.
  • "I think he’s going to open some eyes this fall," Morgan said. "Chauncey is just starting to really develop the confidence, along with the ability he already had. He’s not arrived yet, but he’s on that path."
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