Iowa football's Nico Ragaini aiming for big 2022 season thanks to new can-do attitude
Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini knows the end of his Hawkeye career is near.
He's been playing in Iowa City for four years and 34 games. He's the longest-serving veteran player in the program. He's already graduated.
Now he only has about six months to try to cement his final game: Ensuring he gets a shot in the NFL.
His plan is to go all in this fall.
"This is my last football year, my fifth year," Ragaini said. "I got this summer and then the next couple games. So putting all my eggs in the basket and going as hard as I could possibly go."
There'll certainly be opportunity for Ragaini to have a large role in the offense this year. Due to transfer portal attrition, Iowa's wide receiver room is small in scholarship numbers with Ragaini as the lone senior. Charlie Jones' departure to Purdue allows for Ragaini to take a stronghold over the slot receiver position. But he didn't rule out lining up at other positions.
A bit of the leap Ragaini wants to take is maintaining the swagger that he says allows him to play at his best. Admittedly it's come and gone over the last year or so but with a fresh perspective this summer, he sees himself putting his best foot forward for the team in 2022.
"I know my best player when I have this little swag about myself," Ragaini said. "Sometimes I get myself out of it. So I just got to focus on myself and just get in that zone every single game. That's my goal this year."
Ragaini was Iowa's leading pass catcher in 2019 with 46 receptions but his production dropped in 2020 and 2021. He still finished third on the team in catches (26) and yards (331) in 2021. But when he looked back on last season, he knows he missed opportunities to maximize his chances.
So this offseason, Ragaini committed himself to changing his mentality.
"I was getting the ball like every single time (in high school)," Ragaini said. "Some games, it's going to happen; some games, it's not going to happen. But staying in the mindset that every single play, I can make an impact and keeping myself in the game 100% and making the catches when when my opportunity is called I got to make the play every single time.
"There're some plays where I took off blocking and stuff like that. Some plays I feel like I could have made the catch but I didn't make the catch. So this year, I'm just trying to catch every single ball and block as hard as I can 110% every single play."
Ragaini credits conversations with his father, Gianni, a former baseball player at UConn as a catalyst in his mental progression. His father's message was simple: stay engaged during every second possible because his time as a Division I player will end sooner than he may realize.
Another layer that's keeping Ragaini engaged more than ever is his role in the receiver room. There isn't much he hasn't experienced during his career but but entering his final season he finds himself in a role that even he's never been in.
"I'm the only old guy in the room pretty much," Ragaini said. "I feel like this is a new role for me pretty much."
Ragaini's is Iowa's lone senior receiver. After him is junior walk-on Jackson Ritter and a large group of sophomores and freshmen, including budding stars Arland Bruce IV, Keagan Johnson. Wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland has complimented Ragaini's approach with the younger players, especially in the film room.
"It's pretty cool because it's just like forced me to be a leader," Ragaini said. "That's challenging me. So I'm taking it all in and I'm loving it."
With a new perspective and large opportunity looming, Ragaini feels like he's in a good place entering the summer period. His larger goals are obvious but day-to-day, he wants to cherish each moment. And he hopes that in doing that it'll lead to success in his last season.
"The one goal I really have for myself is just enjoying every single moment of every single game," Ragaini said. "There are some times where like I take my head off the game because maybe I'm not getting the ball that much. When you do that, you're not your best player, not blocking on every play like I know I could block and then I'm not locked in on some catches like I know I catch. So yeah, every time I get an opportunity to make a play, I want to make the play."
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 email@example.com.