Touted Iowa recruits Arland Bruce IV, Connor Colby and Keagan Johnson eye immediate impact
In 2021, Iowa reeled in its top recruiting class in over 15 years with the nation's No. 24 ranked class, according to 247Sports. Of the 19 signees, six early enrolled for spring practice to get a jump on adjusting to college football.
It didn't take long for them to have that "welcome to college football" moment.
"First spring practice in pads was definitely an eye-opener," said Iowa freshman offensive lineman Connor Colby, a four-star recruit in that class. "It's definitely a big step up — everyone's like 'the guy' from their high school so it's a lot harder."
A number of these college football rookies seem to be adjusting just fine, however.
That includes Colby, who figures to earn a considerable workload for a true freshman in a program that doesn't typically play many. In Iowa's preseason depth chart, Colby was listed as a second string tackle behind Nick DeJong.
"He did a really good job in the spring," head coach Kirk Ferentz said of Colby at Big Ten media days. "He's definitely a guy right now in my mind who will be in our top ten (linemen). He's going to have a good career, it's just a matter of when but he's off to a really good start."
He isn't the only one in that acclaimed 2021 class.
Fellow four-star Keagan Johnson also made the official two-deep at wide receiver in their two-receiver base look with a fullback. Another true freshman and early enrollee, wide receiver Arland Bruce IV, is in the mix to play early. In a two-deep that features three wide receivers, he's likely second string as well.
At the team's annual Kids' Day Scrimmage on Saturday, both players showed flashes that reflected their lofty recruiting rankings. Johnson was limited some due to a small injury suffered the day before but he made several catches, and Bruce had one of the day's standout plays — a 37-yard reception while being heavily contested by veteran cornerback Riley Moss.
"Both Keagan (Johnson) and Arland (Bruce) have really done a nice job," Ferentz said at team media day over the weekend. "And when I say nice job, they're doing a nice job on the field, but also they've really been impressive in regard to the way they kind of handle everything.
"Everybody comes in differently. Everybody has a different way to react into the loads of taking 14, 15 hours to the workouts, the practice, all those things that you do in the spring and then the summer. And both of them have so far just kind of taken it in stride."
Preseason camp has only yet begun but it appears that a group of true freshmen are poised to make an immediate impact for Iowa this fall. On the heels of a successful scrimmage, their physical capabilities aren't in question.
The question is whether they'll be ready mentally for the Sept. 4 opener against No. 17 Indiana.
"My biggest strides came on the mental side," Johnson said. "Finding extra time outside of just meetings and practice to look at your playbook. You really have to succeed at a level like this and that was something I had to learn early on."
One benefit of enrolling early and what has helped in the mental development is learning from mistakes. As a freshman they're inevitable. The shorter the memory, the easier it is to move past it and improve with each rep.
"Don't try to perfect everything," Colby said. "You're going to make mistakes, just have to learn from them. I just know you're going to learn from it later on in film, just worry about the next thing."
On the offensive line, Colby played exclusively with the second unit at tackle on Saturday's scrimmage. It's still undecided who will be starting at the tackle positions in three weeks but Ferentz hasn't ruled out that multiple people will play.
"Really right now, I don't even want to predict who's going to be playing three weeks from now," Ferentz said. "Maybe all four of the guys: Mason (Richman) has pretty much stayed on the left side, Jack (Plumb) has flipped back and forward and we've done a little bit with (Nick) DeJong.
We're trying to keep Connor (Colby) in one spot for now. We're just going to let these guys keep practicing, but it's wide open right now."
At receiver, Bruce and Johnson have gotten acclaim from veterans such as Tyrone Tracy Jr. for their strides so far. Outside of receiver, there's an eagerness to get on the field in any capacity. Over the weekend, Bruce expressed his desire to play a lot of special teams this fall.
"(Special teams) is the way to get on the field as a freshman," Bruce said. "All spring fall I've been shadowing (cornerback Terry Roberts) doing whatever he does, he's a great special teams guy. I might be considered a player that might get on the field (at receiver) but it starts with special teams.
"If I don't do anything on special teams then I won't play receiver. That's how Charlie (Jones) has earned his way on the depth chart at receiver so it starts there."
The 2021 class featured seven four-star recruits but Bruce, Colby and Johnson are leaders in the pack for immediate playing time. But depth charts are written on paper, not stone.
They're on the depth chart for now, but they aren't buying too much into it.
"Nothing is really guaranteed," Colby said. "All of us are just trying to come out here and work hard everyday and we'll just see where everything falls.
Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com