Kirk Ferentz has a long history of producing excellent tight ends during his time in Iowa City. However, few players at this position have emerged as major playmakers for the Hawkeyes as early into their career as the following athlete, who will have an opportunity to put up some truly gaudy career stats for the black and gold should he exhaust his collegiate eligibility.
Sam LaPorta– Junior
Highland, IL (Highland HS)
6’4”, 249 lbs
2021 Projection: Starting tight end
LaPorta came to the University of Iowa by way of Highland, Illinois where he was a four-year letter winner and a two-time first-team all-state selection at wide receiver. LaPorta was an under-the-radar recruit who was ranked outside the top 1000 high school prospects in the class of 2019 per 247, and he was actually the lowest rated scholarship player signed by the Hawkeyes at his position that year behind Logan Lee and Josiah Miamen. However, LaPorta broke out with a strong performance against Northwestern in late October of his freshman year, and by the time he posted a six-catch performance against USC in the Holiday Bowl, it became clear that Iowa had found its future at tight end.
LaPorta has been a productive player for the Hawkeyes over the past two seasons. The junior tight end hauled in 42 catches for 459 yards over 14 games and led the team with 27 receptions in 2020. LaPorta was named to Pro Football Focus’ third-team All-Big Ten squad as a sophomore in addition to making Phil Steele’s fourth-team and being an honorable mention selection by both the media and coaches, designations which were well-earned for a player who spent much of last season as the go-to security blanket for quarterback Spencer Petras.
Expectations are high for LaPorta entering his third year in the program (he has already shown up on at least one pre-season All-Conference list), but there are plenty of areas where the talented young tight end could still make real progress this season. While LaPorta’s run blocking improved considerably between his freshman and sophomore campaigns, he still has a way to go in that area before approaching some of the top players to suit up at his position during the Ferentz era. Furthermore, LaPorta should look for greater opportunities to make an impact in the redzone this season. Despite his 6’4” frame, the junior tight end has only one career touchdown to his name. That could very well change this year due to the loss of Brandon Smith and Shaun Beyer to graduation, and LaPorta has already demonstrated that he is more than capable of going airborne to make a difficult catch.
Some of the best tight ends in Hawkeye history had breakout campaigns during their third year in the program. Only time will tell whether LaPorta will follow suit.