Iowa football: Ferentz 'excited' about new running back; Brandon Snyder on track to return

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Kirk Ferentz is excited about the newest running back to join the Iowa football team.

The 20th-year Hawkeye head coach confirmed Monday night that Mekhi Sargent has joined the roster. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound transfer from Iowa Western Community College has three years of eligibility remaining, and has already used his redshirt.

“He’s a guy we’ve been watching with a lot of interest,” Ferentz said prior to a Polk County I-Club event at the Wakonda Club. “(Recruiting coordinator) Kelvin (Bell) saw him in a postseason game in the UNI-Dome, back in December. That really piqued our interest.”

Mekhi Sargent rushed for 1,449 yards in his redshirt freshman year for Iowa Western. Originally from Key West, Florida, he'll have three years of football eligibility remaining at Iowa.

That would be the Graphic Edge Bowl, in which Iowa Western trounced Northwest Mississippi, 36-19, in Cedar Falls. Sargent rushed 21 times for 144 yards in that game. Interestingly, that was right at his average — 1,449 yards in 10 games — during a season in which Sargent was named first-team junior-college all-American.

Upon news breaking that he was joining the Hawkeyes, Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier told the Register that Sargent was a “complete” back, and Reivers assistant Donnie Woods tweeted, “Been around a lot of good ones. He’s the best we ever had. Tough, smart, great hands out of the backfield.”

Sargent will have a chance to compete for playing time right away, as Iowa looks for a No. 3 back behind sophomores Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. It certainly casts doubt on the future of Toks Akinribade, who was withheld from competition as a sophomore for medical reasons.

Iowa also seems convinced that Sargent is a good fit, considering it’s now expected to take one running back (instead of two) in the class of 2019 — with news that four-star Illinois prospect Jirehl Brock was cancelling his Iowa visit this weekend. The Hawkeyes have a good chance of landing Georgia running back Tyler Goodson, who announces his college choice July 3.

“It really kind of depended on the management of our roster and how things went,” Ferentz said of Sargent. “We had an opening, felt like it was a great fit for us. Just excited for him to join our football team.”

Welcome back, Brandon Snyder

While it’s still only June, it’s very encouraging for the Hawkeyes to have free safety Brandon Snyder back with the team following a second ACL surgery.

Seven months removed from the operation, Snyder told the Register on Monday that he was “doing everything with the team. Come season, I’ll be good to go.”

Snyder played 18 holes at Wakonda on Monday with no protection on his surgically repaired left knee.

Asked if Snyder — who was suspended from traveling to the Pinstripe Bowl following a December DUI arrest — would be back in Week 1, Ferentz said yes. If Snyder returns to his usual, physical form, that would give Iowa’s secondary an immense boost.

The 2016 starter played in only one game last fall (against Illinois, in which he had an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown) before later re-tearing his ACL while training.

Snyder, a former walk-on, will be a fifth-year senior this fall and joins an experienced safety room that also includes 2017 starters Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker, plus late-season contributor Geno Stone.

“It’s just full speed ahead now. He’s doing a great job. Happy he’s back with us,” Ferentz said. “Two weeks now, and he hasn’t had any issues now medically.”

Iowa safety Brandon Snyder, shown intercepting a pass vs. Illinois in 2017 that he returned 89 yards for a touchdown, hopes to start in Week 1 for the Hawkeyes in 2018 after a second ACL surgery.

The NCAA got one right

Ferentz applauded the recently passed NCAA eligibility rule that allows a player to participate in four games without losing a redshirt year.

“It’s a real positive for college football,” Ferentz said. “It’ll help a program like ours. I think that’s good for everybody, really, across the nation.”

Ferentz has already thought about how to best take advantage of the rule — perhaps getting true freshmen game experience without costing them a year. A position of particular importance at Iowa is quarterback — where Spencer Petras could be redshirted even if he plays in a handful of games in 2018. Petras will compete with redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell to be Nate Stanley's backup.

Ferentz noted that the rule would’ve helped save Drew Tate (in 2003) and Stanley (in 2016) a year of eligibility, had it been enacted sooner.

He said he could see the rule helping Iowa “at both ends” of the season — perhaps testing the waters with some rookies early in the season to see if they’re ready; or letting ascending players into the lineup as the season winds down. It'll be interesting to see how coaches manage this in year one.

“I think there’s probably some benefit at the front end, and certainly at the back end of the season,” Ferentz said. “And then the quarterback situation, it’s a very unique position. That would have come in handy a few times historically over the past 19 years.”