After up-and-down freshman year, Iowa's Mason Richman prepares for leadership role in 2022
Looking back, Mason Richman views his redshirt freshman year at Iowa as a roller-coaster experience. He found himself in a rare position — a freshman at Iowa starting on the offensive line and at a premier position: left tackle.
Richman enjoyed the highs of starting for a Big Ten West champion team but also went through expected growing pains as a young player competing against elite competition weekly. Entering this season he's still using the day-by-day approach that got him through last season but feels much more comfortable this summer.
"I think this year I have a better understanding of what I need to do as a person and athlete on this team," Richman said. "Just to help the team in general instead of a lot of the self-minded mindset last year of just trying to play and get on the field and everything. So I think this year I've certainly taken more of a team mindset because if I can help myself and others around me, those others around me will also bring me up in my own play and make me look a little bit better sometimes."
Richman's maturation as a leader will be just as important as his play on the field. Despite his sophomore eligibility, he has the most career starts among Iowa's current offensive line group with 12. Another sophomore, guard Connor Colby, has 11.
Richman believes he's more prepared to not only take a step forward in his play but also take more ownership in helping his unit improve. He credits conversations with head coach Kirk Ferentz for the quick shift in his mentality.
"Coach Ferentz talks about it all the time," Richman said. "How everyone in the country is training right now and there's a lot of guys are probably in my shoes where they're a redshirt freshman and they're still a leader on their team. But I think it's just a matter of how I'm going to take it on and the biggest thing that I've got to work on in that is just giving more effort. I think just overall is you can always give more."
Richman benefited from being one of the offensive linemen who completed spring practice without injury. The spring model of practicing, taking a full day to review the film, practicing again and so on helped reinforce a lot of what he learned during the season.
There's much less time in the summer for actual football activities. Teams are allowed only eight hours per week for on-field drills. Richman is using the summer to master time management. He knows there's a lot he could be doing, and the challenge is finding what works for him and how to do it in moderation.
"I'm here for two hours each day, then we get 22 hours to recover," Richman said. "So I think that's the biggest thing is how you master those 22 hours. Last year I put in a lot of extra work whether it was football reps or even strength things outside the facility but you certainly have to get a grip. How much you give is how much you're going to get out of it. But at the same time if you overwork yourself, you're going to burn out eventually. So you certainly don't want to do too much, so it's just finding that balance."
Richman's mental growth has coincided with physical growth this off-season. He's listed at 308 pounds on Iowa's team website, up 12 pounds from where he was listed last season. And on the field, he sees areas of improvement in every category.
"I don't know how much I really showcased in the best of my abilities last year," Richman said. "I know I gave it my all but as a young player you try to feel things out and don't always know what you're doing. But I want to improve on a couple things in the pass game and just finishing in the run game. I think I only had two or three pancakes last year and that's a big measurement for pro scouts and our coaches for how you finish a play and set the tempo for the team."
As a unit, Richman said, the offensive line is much healthier now than during the spring, which is helping the group's cohesion. Players can watch film on their own and in their limited on-field time the emphasis is on fundamentals ahead of fall camp, which begins in early August.
Richman hopes his off-season work culminates in a big step forward this fall. He's motivated to show more as a second-year starter and feels ready to place his stamp on the tackle position.
"I think the comfort level is really there," Richman said. "I know a lot about what to do now. I got a little preview last year of how to how to do it but I need to just keep working at that."
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.