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Hockenson’s former position coach, LeVar Woods, discusses the ex-Chariton High School star receiver’s approach at Iowa.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Everything about the NFL Scouting Combine is rehearsed. Overly so. The on-field events are drilled from the moment a college player starts training for it after the college season. Proper form is instructed to jump an extra inch, press an extra rep, shave an extra tenth of a second. Interviews — with teams and the media — are just as rehearsed. Players have an excellent idea on what will be asked of them, how it will be asked, why it will be asked and therefore, how they should respond.

No doubt University of Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, like every other player in Indianapolis, was ready for it all.

No doubt he knew he would be asked about Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz and tight ends coach Brian Ferentz.

What followed couldn’t be orchestrated.

Hockenson’s cheeks flushed, his eyes watered. He tried to power through his answer but even the most trained speaker can’t neatly paper over a vocal chord that quivers.

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“I can’t say enough good things about the Ferentzes,” Hockenson said Friday during his interview session in front of the national media. “They put me in this position. I love them to death. Coach Brian Ferentz has taught me a lot. Coach Kirk Ferentz is a mentor of mine. Just being a part of that program was really special to me.

“The culture that they’ve built at Iowa is so special. They’re family. They’ve done everything for me as a player. They’re going to hold a special place in my heart. They’ve helped me in my three years there. They’ve pushed me to be the player I am and they’re going to continue to have my best interests in the NFL.”

That relationship was one of the reasons he struggled with the decision to leave the university after a redshirt sophomore season that saw him catch 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns.

“With coach (Kirk) Ferentz, to get his blessing, for him tell me that I’m ready for the next level as a person and as a player, it was really meaningful and special,” Hockenson said.

Yet that relationship is why Hockenson took home the John Mackey award as the best collegiate tight end in the country and ultimately led him to make the jump to the NFL. Under Kirk Ferentz and the direction of position coaches Brian Ferentz and Levar Woods, Hockenson entered the combine and the entire pre-draft process as the top tight end in a talented class that includes teammate Noah Fant.

“Coach Brian, he started out as a cornerbacks coach at New England so he learned defenses, he learned a lot of things and then he moved to tight end coach and so for him to be able to talk about defenses, for him to be able to teach that to us, obviously for every action there is a reaction, for every person there is another person in different gaps, for the shell of a defense, there are so many things that he’s taught me that will help me at the next level,” Hockenson said. “It helped me in college, obviously. It was a lot of fun to learn from him.”

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As for the true purpose of the combine — impressing one team enough to draft him as early as possible — Hockenson did his best to avoid pointing out any one club that he talked to, only saying it has been many.

No doubt clubs are impressed with his size, speed, willingness to block and overall attitude toward the game. But as one NFL tight ends coach said, Hockenson is “authentic.”

And for Hockenson, he hopes that all comes across in Indianapolis and continues on to the field on Sundays in the fall.

“I’m going to have to go to the city that picks me, I’m going to have to do the work,” he said. “I’m going to have to learn the playbook, I’ll have to do so much in order to play at the next level and I’m just super excited to do that. That’s what I’m here to do and I’m ready for the challenge.”

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