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Iowa's Mackey Award winning tight end preferred not to take NFL questions, so we asked him some college questions instead. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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TAMPA, Fla. — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz’s preference was that reporters steer clear of NFL questions this week for a few of his players with decisions to make.

The big player in question, of course, is Mackey Award winner T.J. Hockenson. He enters Tuesday’s Outback Bowl matchup against No. 18 Mississippi State as Iowa’s leader in receptions (46) and receiving yards (717) while tying for second on the team with seven touchdowns.

The redshirt sophomore tight end laughed as questions came his way with a college slant following a Thursday morning practice at the University of Tampa’s facility.

What advice have your college coaches given you?

““I’ve got a lot to work on. That’s all there is. Everyone has a lot to work on,” Hockenson replied. “And you can get better each and every year. When I come back another year … or if I come back another year … I’ve got a lot to work on. I have to do a lot better than I did this year.”

(Yes, he did just say, “when I come back," before catching himself. But let’s agree not to read too much into that.)

Will you tell us your plans for next season after the game?

“It’ll probably be a little later than that. I’ve still got to talk to a lot of people.”

A year ago, Iowa junior Josh Jackson declared for the NFL Draft on Jan. 3 — a week after the Pinstripe Bowl. Junior offensive lineman James Daniels declared on Jan. 5.

This year’s deadline for college underclassmen to decide is Jan. 14.

Ferentz confirmed that players got their feedback from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee about a week ago. Hockenson, defensive back Amani Hooker and defensive end Anthony Nelson are the remaining Hawkeyes with decisions to make. Tight end Noah Fant has already left the team to train for the NFL.

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who not only coaches the Hawkeye tight ends but once coached Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with the New England Patriots, has shared his thoughts with Hockenson. But he said there’s no way to truly know where or how a player fits into the NFL without knowing the intricacies and needs of all 32 teams.

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Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz spent four years in the NFL on staff with the New England Patriots. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

“I just try to give guys my opinion about where I see them. Where they’re at. What they can improve on. Physically, how ready they are to do certain things,” Brian Ferentz said. “But ultimately, guys have to do what’s best for them.”

Hockenson had fun with the interviews Thursday. He is relishing his time with his Hawkeye teammates and likes what he’s seen during bowl preparations here and in Iowa City.

“I think this team’s taken this experience and taken it in, and at the same time, we’re blocking it out and trying to win this game,” Hockenson said. “The only thing that we came down here to do is win a ballgame.”

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