Young Hawkeye cornerbacks ready to prove worth

Josh Jackson is gone, the players are young, but the cornerbacks are still anxious to prove they belong.


Joseph Cress

Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia breaks up a pass to Allen Lazard in the end zone during the Iowa/Iowa State game for the Cy-Hawk trophy in Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cyclones, 44-41, in overtime.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Cornerback has been a strong suit for Hawkeye football in recent years, always having someone locking down one side of the field and making life easier for the rest of the defense.

But this year, there is no ball hawk clearly defined at corner for the Black and Gold. Although Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins are expected to be solid contributors, replacing Josh Jackson — who led the country and tied Iowa’s school record with 8 interceptions — is a difficult task.

Despite his departure, Jackson’s legacy lives in the Hawkeyes in the form of knowledge.

“Now that he’s in the league, I’ll be watching him, and I still talk to him a lot, and he says, ‘You just got to stay in your playbook and be confident about your game,’ ” Hankins said.

With Manny Rugamba no longer sporting the Tigerhawk, the secondary is not as deep as it once was. Rugamba served as an experienced cornerback with knowledge of the defense, but he never progressed to the point coaches hoped he would following his breakout freshman campaign in 2016, and he was listed as a backup in the spring, leading to a mutual departure.

I feel like we’re young, but we’re really eager to prove that we’re a good defense. I feel like just being a young, energetic group is going to be our identity

— Michael Ojemudia

“With Manny gone, it sucks because he was an experienced fella and he knew a lot of the defense,” Ojemudia said. “But I felt with him leaving, there’s more opportunity for younger dudes just to step up, for me to try to bring them along, and I feel like we got to seize that opportunity this season.”

The Hawkeyes have no shortage of fresh faces in the secondary with the likes of Julius Brents and Josh Turner entering the equation.

Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker noted Brents as someone who has impressed the coaches in the offseason, saying he has secured the third spot at corner.

Parker also said Turner is included in the top-four cornerbacks, leaving Trey Creamer as the fifth man.

But Brents, a true freshman from Indianapolis, is the one who has emerged over redshirt freshmen Turner and Creamer.

“I think [his physical ability] and [being] able to pick up what we’re doing scheme-wise,” Parker said. “It’s not like we do a lot of things, but there are things on defense you have to do. There’s a pattern read, playing certain coverages, got to read routes, got to know who the support guy is, and I think he’s done a good job of understanding where he has to be and what he has to do.”

With Ojemudia — the most experienced of the group — being a junior and Hankins coming off his redshirt freshman year, Iowa has a young corps in the defensive backfield. Throw in Brents, Turner, and Creamer, who haven’t played a game at the Division-1 level, and the youth really comes to the fore.

However, being young means the secondary guys are ready to learn and show what they can do with the opportunities they get, starting Week 1.

“I feel like we’re young, but we’re really eager to prove that we’re a good defense,” Ojemudia said. “I feel like just being a young, energetic group is going to be our identity.”