NFL hopeful Jack Koerner eyes same career path as Iowa alum, Los Angeles Ram Jake Gervase
Similar to 2018, Iowa football safety Jack Koerner is turning to Jake Gervase for valuable lessons.
Then, Koerner was a walk-on hoping to emulate Gervase's college career, a fellow walk-on who earned a scholarship and became a team captain while playing safety.
Koerner successfully did that. He left Iowa's program in January as a three-year starter and a two-time All-Big Ten selection with 137 career tackles and six interceptions. Four years later, Koerner's trying to re-create Gervase's path into the NFL.
"He kind of put his arm around me when I entered the program," Koerner said. "Now that I'm starting to make this transition (out of the program), he's a guy who's been an undrafted free agent and he's been through that process of practice squad to active roster and back and forth. He's a guy that I've really cherished his insight and advice as I go through this process."
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Koerner was one of several Iowa football players who participated in Iowa football's pro day on Monday. Koerner wasn't invited to the NFL Combine so his workout was critical to impress scouts who would be seeing him work out for the first time. He doesn't think it could've gone any better.
"I feel healthy for the first time in three years, 100 percent," Koerner said. "I feel really confident about what I put out there. Obviously it's a great opportunity and I feel like I maximized that today."
Koerner is a projected undrafted free agent in the upcoming draft but has met with several NFL teams leading up to Iowa's pro day. In early January, Koerner met with 15 NFL teams while attending the College Gridiron Showcase, an independently operated annual post-season college football event in Forth Worth, Texas.
Since then, he's spent the last two months recovering physically and training in Fort Meyers, Florida. He returned to Iowa City recently ahead of pro day and took a meeting with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. After pro day on Monday, many of the teams that he met with in January circled back to provide more feedback.
Koerner ran his 40-yard dash on Monday in 4.51 seconds, which would've ranked ninth-fastest among safeties at the NFL combine. He also put up 20 reps on the bench press, which would've ranked fourth-highest at the combine at his position.
"They all told me that I did really well," Koerner said. "Had a meeting with the Saints (on Sunday) that went really well so all in all I'm pleased with what I've done and at this point it's out of my hands."
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He's leaned on Gervase for advice about navigating the process. Gervase was an undrafted free agent in 2019 and signed with the Los Angeles Rams. He's spent the last three seasons with the Rams bouncing between their active roster and their practice squad. This season he recorded two tackles via special teams during the regular season and played in every playoff game including their 23-20 win in Super Bowl LVI over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Koerner's hoping to carve out a similar place for himself in the NFL via special teams. Over the last three seasons at Iowa, Koerner served as the quarterback of the unit, delivering calls throughout the game to keep players aligned. He was one of the surest tacklers on the team. His 62 solo tackles were the most of any Hawkeye safety in the last 20 years.
Iowa's strong special teams pedigree combined with Koerner's high football IQ and sure tackling ability will be attractive to NFL teams. He can also lean on his and Gervase's experiences with entering the program as walk-ons and earning playing time. It'll be a very similar situation in the NFL.
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For now, Koerner will wait until late April for the draft and hopes that more meetings with teams will fill his calendar until then. Following Gervase's path won't be easy as he knows but he's confident in where he stands with NFL teams and is ready to apply his grueling work ethic into making an NFL roster this fall.
"Out-work the hardest worker is something that (Gervase) lives and breathes," Koerner said. "You may get knocked down but you're never out of it. That's something he's carried with him to the league bouncing back and forth between practice squad and active roster and that's something to be admired. You're never out of it, as long as you're pursuing your dream then you're winning."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.