Hankins hoping to record first interception with newly added versatility

With experience playing three positions on defense, Matt Hankins continues the search for his first interception.

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Hankins hoping to record first interception with newly added versatility

Iowa's Amani Hooker (27) and Matt Hankins (8) sack Boston College quarter back Darius Wade (4) during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27. The Hawkeyes went on to win 27-20.

Iowa's Amani Hooker (27) and Matt Hankins (8) sack Boston College quarter back Darius Wade (4) during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27. The Hawkeyes went on to win 27-20.

Ben Allan Smith

Iowa's Amani Hooker (27) and Matt Hankins (8) sack Boston College quarter back Darius Wade (4) during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27. The Hawkeyes went on to win 27-20.

Ben Allan Smith

Ben Allan Smith

Iowa's Amani Hooker (27) and Matt Hankins (8) sack Boston College quarter back Darius Wade (4) during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27. The Hawkeyes went on to win 27-20.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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Matt Hankins has never intercepted a pass at Iowa.

He played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2017, making his first start in the regular-season finale against Nebraska, and he started eight games last season when healthy. He has broken up 5 passes and made 69 stops in his career. Still, the pick – the most famous statistic for a defensive back – eludes him.

And he definitely receives some flak for it.

“When you make a friend, they talk about, ‘When are you going to get a pick?’ ” Hankins said. “I just tell them, ‘Hey, it’s coming. When God blesses me, it’ll come.’ ”

Hankins will get his chance this season, and the probability could even be increased. He moved all over the field during spring practice, playing his usual cornerback as well as cash and safety.

The added versatility helps a player understand what the offense and rest of the defense is doing, which could help Hankins’ playmaking ability.

When he played safety during spring ball, he said, he changed his pre-snap focus to the rest of the defense instead of only focusing on his job.

“At corner, it’s mainly your man and the quarterback,” Hankins said. “But at safety, you got to read the line, running back, quarterback, receivers, linebackers, so it’s very different.

“I’m learning the defense a lot more. Last year, it was mainly just my normal position. This year, I know the safety position, corner, cash, a little bit of what the linebackers are doing. So learning the whole defense, really.”

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Hankins began playing safety in spring practice, he said, because defensive coordinator Phil Parker trusted him when other safeties got injured.

The same trust came around last season when Hankins was the one who got hurt. The Lewisville, Texas, native broke his wrist on a pass breakup and hurt his hamstring against Wisconsin, allowing the true freshman combination of Julius Brents and Riley Moss to receive playing time.

The next week against Minnesota, with Hankins and fellow starting cornerback Michael Ojemudia out, Moss picked off 2 passes and Brents intercepted another.

The duo ended up starting five games, but Hankins and Ojemudia earned their starting spots back.

“It just meant to me that Coach had his trust in me that I was still able to do my job when I came back,” Hankins said. “When I was still recovering from my hamstring, he still had trust in me. It just motivated me to keep going.”

Now, he enters a deep secondary as a leader. With Geno Stone — who picked off 4 passes last season — and Ojemudia — 3 interceptions — playing opposite of Hankins, he’ll be called upon to continue to contribute in a big way. And maybe he’ll find that ever-elusive interception.

“I don’t want to say [the secondary] is just mine,” Stone said. “I want to say it’s OJ’s, too —he’s a senior. I want to say it’s Matt’s, too — he has a lot of playing experience, just like me. I want to say it’s all of ours. I feel like if we all go out there and be on the same page, we’re going to be a great secondary.”