Welcome back to our preview of the 2023 Iowa Hawkeyes football season. Up next is:
Nico Ragaini - Senior
6’0”, 196 lbs.
East Haven, CT - Notre Dame/Avon Old Farms Prep
2023 projection: Starting Wide Receiver
It’s no secret that one of the biggest weights around the Iowa offense’s neck in recent seasons has been receiver utilization. The Hawkeye offense isn’t designed to dazzle you with splashy chunk plays, and receivers often take a backseat to the running game and tight ends. It’s not the most attractive opportunity for top high school talent, and the attrition in recent years of injury and transfers have wreaked havoc on the position and Iowa’s already marginal production.
Thankfully, we still have Nico Ragaini, the fifth-year senior out of East Haven, CT. Opting to return to Iowa City with his Covid year of eligibility, Ragaini follows in the long Hawkeye tradition of under-the-radar, reliable pass catchers you can rely on in tight situations to move the chains on third and medium or come up with a highlight grab when you least expect it. Look no further than his touchdown against Penn State in 2021, which blew the lid off Kinnick Stadium and left Gus Johnson struggling for words.
Yeah Friday is exciting, but is it Nico Ragaini running a double-move corner route that Spencer Petras drops a pass so perfectly into on the most unexpected play call ever to give Iowa the lead over Penn State and send Kinnick Stadium into a roar exciting? Probs not. #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/QXgNcCdsm2— Cody Hills (@ByCodyHills) July 15, 2022
With former teammates Arland Bruce and Keagan Johnson transferring, and his current teammates fielding a grab back of experience, Ragaini is the elder statesman of the receiver corps, and with tight end Sam LaPorta off to the Detroit Lions, he should be a cornerstone of Iowa’s passing game.
Nico missed the first two games of 2022 due to injury and returned with a two catch, 56-yard outing against Nevada. His most productive game came against Northwestern, a 4 catch 66-yard effort that included 12 yards rushing on an end around. For all his reliability as a short yardage option, Ragaini made plenty of highlight reel catches, including a 28 yard grab against two Nevada defenders. In eleven games played last year, six of them resulted in double digit yard averages.
That highlights the role of receivers in Iowa’s offensive scheme, and why a player like Ragaini is so valuable. He’s relied on to provide the occasional big play, but more often than not is used to complement to the running game and tight ends. The number in the TD column isn’t going to matter as much as what they did to get down the field in the first place. Without those clutch plays by Ragaini, Kaleb Johnson or Spencer Petras aren’t getting those two-yard TD rushes.
Even with the big portal additions of Seth Anderson and Kaleb Brown, Nico will continue to be an integral part of the Hawkeye offense in 2023. Expect to see #89 on the field, and hear announcers mispronouncing his name, plenty this fall.