Iowa football is only four weeks from taking the field for the first time, and our site’s countdown to the REAL start of the football season continues this week with two players who walked on to the team but stand at very different stages of their career; one is ready to follow up a surprisingly productive sophomore year by becoming a standout in the Iowa secondary, while the other is a true freshman wide receiver hoping to follow in his older teammate’s footsteps. Both players hope to match the achievements of another Hawkeye great who shared their jersey: two-time All-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater.
Jack Koerner, Junior
Des Moines, IA (Dowling Catholic)
6’0”, 205 lbs.
2020 Projection: Starting free safety
Isaiah Wagner, Freshman
Pleasant Hill, IA (Southeast Polk HS)
6’3”, 205 lbs.
2020 Projection: Redshirt wide receiver
Jack Koerner’s ascension from unknown walk-on to solid starter is one Hawkeye fans have seen several times at this point, but the program’s penchant for developing unheralded talent doesn’t make Koerner’s story any less remarkable. Despite earning first-team All-State honors as a senior at Dowling Catholic, Koerner failed to receive a single FBS offer and decided to walk on at Iowa instead of accepting a scholarship to an FCS program. Koerner redshirted in 2017 and was restricted almost exclusively to special teams in 2018 but managed to work his way onto the depth chart in the leadup to the 2019 season. An impressive fall camp combined with an injury to game one starter Kaevon Merriweather gave Koerner an opportunity to earn a starting spot, one the scrappy walk-on never surrendered.
Koerner’s sophomore season was a productive one. Koerner finished the season with 81 tackles, five pass deflections, and interception, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble en route to earning both the defense’s Next Man In award and a full-ride scholarship. He was particularly impressive in Iowa’s week three win over Iowa State after which he was named to Pro Football Focus’s weekly All-Big Ten team.
As impressive as Koerner’s play on the field was last season, it’s arguably even more amazing that he plans to take the field at all in 2020. Koerner was involved in a potentially fatal jet ski accident in June and there was serious concern that the event could jeopardize not only his season but his career as well. Fortunately, the Athlon Sports pre-season third-team All-Big Ten fully expects to be back in action when Iowa takes the field against Purdue four weeks from today.
Isaiah Wagner hopes he can follow in Koerner’s pathway to the field (sans boating accident, of course). Wagner is a fellow walk-on from the greater Des Moines area who was a third-team All-State selection at Southeast Polk where he played both wide receiver and defensive back. Wagner is slotted to suit up at wide receiver, a position that is loaded with young talent including Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini. Still, the 6’3 Wagner has a great frame and could carve out a role for himself if he impresses the coaching staff with his athleticism and hard work in what is likely to be his redshirt season. Afterall, as Jack Koerner’s career has shown, it’s not how you arrive in Iowa City that matters, but what you do once you get there.