Hawkeye football safe at safety in 2018


Iowa strong safety Amani Hooker dives into the end zone after intercepting a pass on Ohio State's first play from scrimmage during Iowa's game against Ohio State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Buckeyes 55 to 24. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Hawkeye football had nearly a clean canvas to start with last season in the secondary. This season, at safety, all key components returns.

Iowa returns Amani Hooker, Jake Gervase, Brandon Snyder, and Geno Stone on the back end.

“We’re excited going into fall camp,” Gervase said. “I feel like we’ve got some pretty solid depth at safety with four guys who have played a good number of games.”

Whereas last season there was a heated battle for the starting job, there’s now a new battle at safety: who will snag the most interceptions.

“We’re always trying to compete,” Hooker said. “Hopefully I [win] … that’s always the goal, try to get turnovers as a whole unit.”

Gervase and Hooker bring back the most production of the bunch. Gervase led all safeties with 56 tackles and 3 interceptions last fall. His interception count is the highest of any Hawkeye returnee for 2018.

Hooker made a name for himself last season as well, tallying 56 stops and a pair of interceptions, including one for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in Iowa’s 55-24 upset with over Ohio State.

Snyder and Stone appeared in limited action last season, but their impact proved to be profound. Synder’s one game in 2017 resulted in 3 tackles, 2 passed defended, and an interception ​— which he returned 89 yards for a score.

Stone saw action in seven games last season, but his best outing — by far — came against Nebraska. Stepping up for Hooker, who was injured, Stone flew to the ball. The then-true-freshman registered 8 tackles (6 solo) in the Hawkeyes’ 56-14 beatdown over their border rivals.

But going into the fall, all eyes are on Hooker and Gervase. Hooker said the pair possesses solid chemistry — something defenses want out of their two players in the back half of the field.

“Last year, we started with each other, we played with each other, and even my freshman year, we were on two deeps,” Hooker said. “I think I and Jake have good cohesive communication. We understand each other, [we’re] on the same page — all that stuff. I know he’s going to do his job no matter what, and I believe he knows I’m going to do my job no matter what. That’s a good thing to have in the back end.”

That sort of trust and cohesion will be crucial in 2018, as the secondary’s biggest question mark lies in cornerback depth — a thin position as far as experience goes.

Iowa lost corner Manny Rugamba earlier this month. The two-year Hawkeye, who appeared on the second team on the spring depth charts, announced his decision to leave the Iowa program and play elsewhere.

“Corner, we’re lacking some depth there, but some young guys are going to have to step up,” Gervase said. “That’s our program — next man in. So between Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia, after that, there’s not much experience.”

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