Sam LaPorta is back with Iowa football. Why that means big things for the Hawkeyes tight ends.

It didn't take very long for Sam LaPorta to make a decision. The Iowa tight end, who statistically stacked up against past Iowa greats last season, could've entered the 2022 NFL Draft as a junior.

After Iowa's season ended on Jan. 1, he said he took time to decide. But the decision was "pretty easy and apparent." 

Several months later, one of the top tight end prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft is preparing for his senior season with the Hawkeyes. 

"I just wanted to make myself happy," LaPorta said. "Most of all, I'm happy to be a part of this team in this program and get my college paid for. Just to be a part of this team and go to a great university, that's why I chose to come back." 

LaPorta returns to Iowa as their leading pass-catcher in each of the last two seasons. His 95 career receptions ranks fourth all-time in Iowa history for tight ends. Behind him is up-and-coming sophomore Luke Lachey. At 6-foot-6 and 248 pounds, he could emerge as a weapon both in the pass game and as a run blocker this season. 

At the top, Iowa has two proven commodities led by LaPorta but there's also several new faces in the room for the 2022 season. The Hawkeyes have a new tight ends coach in Abdul Hodge and three new tight ends to begin summer: Steven Stilianos, a graduate transfer from Lafayette and a pair of three-star recruits in Addison Ostrenga and Cael Vanderbush. 

It's still early on but LaPorta likes the potential.

"I feel very strongly about the group that we have in the room," LaPorta said. "We're really excited about the group and the guys that we have in the room. I think coach (Abdul) Hodge is a great leader for us. The addition of the new guys is really exciting and I can't I can't wait to continue to coach them up as well." 

Iowa tight ends Sam LaPorta and Luke Lachey are projected to be a formidable 1-2 combination at tight end this season.

The most prevalent new face is first-year and first-time tight ends coach Abdul Hodge. The former Iowa linebacker great finished his first spring with the team and is still working to build relationships with players in the room. 

Hodge noted during the spring that his experience with linebackers can help in coaching tight ends because tight ends are almost always matched up against linebackers in pass protection, run blocking and pass catching. LaPorta's already benefited from those lessons and says communicating with Hodge is helping him reach another level. 

More:From linebackers to tight ends, new Iowa football assistant coach Abdul Hodge embraces new challenge

"I'm definitely meeting with Coach Hodge a whole lot more," LaPorta said. "Just him breaking down the game. For me, it's I feel really beneficial at this point in my career. I feel like I have a great understanding the offense, now learning how the defense and defensive system tries to stop tight ends and little things in my game or like just analyzing defenses and stuff like that I feel like it's a big thing for me." 

On the field, Stilianos is most primed for a role this fall of all newcomers. He twice earned All-Patriot League first team honors and provides instant depth in case of injury, or even opens the door for three-tight end sets. In addition to Hodge, Stilianos' experience and perspective is helping sharpen LaPorta, Lachey and the freshmen. 

"It's cool to see how he breaks down the game as an older player," LaPorta said. "He's a guy that has had a successful college career up till now. To see him break down the game in his own way is something that's new to me because he's new to the program and I feel like I have a good understanding of how everybody in the room sees the game and you know, the little nuances in their game that I recognize too." 

First-year Iowa tight ends coach Abdul Hodge is using his experience as a linebacker to help Iowa's tight ends improve.

Ostrenga and Vanderbush will likely use this year for development. LaPorta's enjoying the role of mentor for the young tight ends and is emphasizing one, key message right now: don't dwell on the mistakes. 

"I don't know if it's much as advice as it is try not to make the same mistakes that I've made," LaPorta said. "I feel like they feel like the mistakes stick in your head a little bit more than the advice does. So just recognizing the stuff that I've done wrong or I tripped up on in the past and try to help help them create a bridge so they can overcome that easier or they can avoid those mistakes entirely." 

What impact can Iowa's tight ends have on the pass offense this year? Quite a lot considering LaPorta's production, the depth behind him and the fact that Iowa is low on scholarship receivers. There's potential for more pass opportunities for multiple tight ends. 

More:Iowa football's Nico Ragaini aiming for big 2022 season thanks to new can-do attitude

And LaPorta's confident that his his group will be prepared for any role that's required. 

"I feel like we have great depth in the room at the moment," LaPorta said. "If you ask any tight ends they'll say 'Yeah, put us all out there' and that's how I feel. I feel like we have great depth and getting guys on the field in different sets and getting guys to play their best football is what I'm looking forward to most." 

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