LaPorta aiming to be next great Iowa tight end

Since signing with Iowa in 2018, LaPorta has rapidly improved his game.


Megan Nagorzanski

Iowa tight end Sam Laporta catches a pass during a game against Northwestern at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

The road Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta traveled to Iowa City and the John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List was undoubtedly unconventional.

Special teams coach LeVar Woods was the first member of Iowa’s coaching staff to reach out to LaPorta about continuing his football career as a Hawkeye. At the time, LaPorta was actually a three-star wide receiver prospect.

The first time offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz saw LaPorta live in action, LaPorta was playing basketball.

“The week before the Dec. 19 signing day of my senior year, coach Woods actually reached out to me and said Brian Ferentz would be stopping by my school today to talk to me and then he’d be at my basketball game that night,” LaPorta said. “From there, me and Brian kind of took off. He loved the way I competed playing basketball. He’d seen all my tape from my senior year playing football in high school. From there, here I am, I guess.”

LaPorta went on to sign his letter of intent.

Subsequently, the Highland, Illinois, native arrived at Iowa and his position was changed to tight end.

“Learning a new position is always tough,” LaPorta said. “Obviously the transition to college from high school is tough for a lot of student-athletes coming in. Just the pure physicality, and the speed of the game, just the awareness you have to have at the college level is so significantly higher than high school. It was really hard coming in and learning a new position, coming from high school playing receiver. Then, coming to a Big Ten university and playing tight end.”

LaPorta credits his former teammates Nate Wieting, Drew Cook, and for helping him make that transition Nate Stanley. The sophomore has also received assistance from some of the great former Hawkeyes at his position — including Dallas Clark, T.J. Hockenson, and George Kittle.

“They just tell me to be my own person,” LaPorta said. “They never tell me to try and be somebody I’m not. They always say, play the Iowa way, play physical, play tough, and do everything right, the little things. It’s awesome to have a lot of great mentors like that to kind of feed you along the path you want to go down – if I want to pursue a career in the NFL. Those guys are a great support system for me.”

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LaPorta has demonstrated the ability and drive to be one of Iowa’s next great tight ends. In the Hawkeyes’ opening game of the season against Purdue, LaPorta led Iowa in both receptions and receiving yards, corralling five passes totaling 71 yards.

The 6-foot-4, 249-pounder was also impressive down the stretch in 2019-20. He caught a career-high six passes in Iowa’s 49-24 thrashing of USC in the Holiday Bowl. Before that, LaPorta pulled in a pass from Stanley in the final moments of the Hawkeyes’ Black Friday matchup with Nebraska that set up a Keith Duncan game-winning field goal.

However, LaPorta really made a name for himself in Iowa’s game against Northwestern at Ryan Field last season. Prior to that game, LaPorta hadn’t recorded a single statistic as he sat behind the likes of Wieting, Shaun Beyer, and Cook.

When LaPorta finally took the gridiron, he was explosive. He caught two passes for 43 yards – one of which went for 41.

Now, a year removed from that game, LaPorta can hang his hat on the improvements he’s made to his game since then.

“We were watching film from last year and [I] just look like a completely different person out there to me, just with how far I’ve come.” LaPorta said. “Like a full offseason of weight training and watching film, just learning the offseason better and more in depth with Brian and the other tight ends. I see a significant difference in my game in the way that I process things faster. I think I’ve come a long way. I’m proud of myself for that. I needed to come a long way.”

Head coach Kirk Ferentz has also noticed LaPorta’s rapid development and success. Ferentz said on a video conference Tuesday that he and Iowa’s coaching staff kept gaining confidence in LaPorta as last season went on.

Now LaPorta is one of starting quarterback Spencer Petras’ top weapons to throw to — and just keeps getting better.

“The common denominator is, he loves football,” Ferentz said. “He loves playing, he loves being out there on the field. He enjoys getting his ankles taped. He enjoys everything about this. He’s got a real good energy, a good vibe. . . There’s something about him. The guy just really enjoys this environment. He clearly likes playing. We’d all like to take credit for teaching him this, teaching him that, but a lot of times, guys just have it or they don’t.”

The ceiling for LaPorta seems to be as high as he can raise it, and the history and tradition of the tight end position at Iowa is in good shape in his sure hands.

“Sam, I don’t think he even realizes how good he is, which is the exciting part,” Clark said. “He doesn’t bring any of that extra, ‘Hey, look at me.’”