Sargent, Beyer declare for NFL Draft, VanValkenburg to return for another season

Three Iowa football seniors announced their future plans on Wednesday.



Dec. 12, 2020; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent (10) moves the ball upfield during the first quarter of the Iowa v. Wisconsin football game at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa defeated Wisconsin with a score of 28-7. Mandatory Credit:

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa football team had two seniors declare for the NFL draft on Wednesday, and one announce that he was sticking around for another season.

Running back Mekhi Sargent and tight end Shaun Beyer are moving on with their professional careers, while defensive end Zach VanValkenburg will return for another season of eligibility. Every football player has the opportunity to return for another year of eligibility because of a blanket waiver provided by the NCAA, but so far, VanValkenburg is the first Hawkeye senior to utilize it.

Sargent and Beyer join wide receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, kicker Keith Duncan, linebacker Nick Niemann, and offensive tackle Alaric Jackson as players who have officially announced they are not returning to Iowa for another season.

One of two Hawkeye running backs to see significant carriers this season, Sargent ran for 432 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns as a senior. The Key West, Florida, native finishes his Iowa career with 1,740 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns.

“I am forever thankful to God for each opportunity he has provided me in life,” Sargent said on social media. “To my parents, ever since I can remember, you have always taught me to follow my dreams. Thank you for your unconditional love and support guiding me through this journey. My friends and family, I appreciate your unwavering love and support. To coach Kirk Ferentz, thank you for seeing my potential when not many others did. I will always be grateful for the opportunity and leadership you provided. To the coaching, strength, and academic staff, thank you for helping me develop into a better person both on and off the field.

“To Hawkeye nation, thank you for being the best fans in the country! It’s been an honor to play in Kinnick Stadium and be part of The Wave. One of the best traditions in all of college football. It has created some of my greatest memories. To my teammates, it has been a pleasure and an honor to have you by my side. Thank you for helping mold me into the athlete I am today. Those memories we created will last a lifetime. The time has now come for me to pursue my lifelong dream and enter the 2021 NFL Draft. I am excited for what the future holds. Go Hawks!” 

Beyer battled injuries over his Hawkeye career, but solidified his role as Iowa’s No. 2 tight end as a senior. The Cedar Rapids Kennedy alum caught 11 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown as a senior and was one of the nation’s highest-graded tight ends according to Pro Football Focus.

“Thank you, Hawkeye Nation, for a memorable five years,” Beyer tweeted. “Getting the opportunity to play for the Hawkeyes five years ago was a dream come true. There is no other feeling like coming out of that tunnel at Kinnick. I will cherish the memories I have made at Iowa for the rest of my life.

“I would like to thank Coach Kirk Ferentz for giving me the opportunity to play at my dream school. I would also like to thank Coach Brian Ferentz, Coach Woods, Coach Morgan, and all of Iowa Football staff for all of your help and guidance throughout my five years at Iowa.

“Most important, I would like to thank my parents and family for your love and support throughout the years. I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it wasn’t for all of you. Thank you, Hawkeye Nation! Go Hawks!”

VanValkenburg emerged as a force at defensive end as a senior, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors for his play. The senior finished his senior year with 30 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks.

VanValkenburg transferred to Iowa two years ago from Hillsdale, a Division II college. His return for a third season as a Hawkeye is a boost to Iowa’s defensive line, which is awaiting decisions from other starters.

“Thank you to all of the people who have made playing at Iowa an incredibly rewarding experience for me thus far,” VanValkenburg tweeted. “Coach Ferentz and the rest of the staff took a huge chance on me two years ago, and I will never forget it. That being said, I would be foolish to turn down the unexpected opportunity to come back for a third year with my brothers in 2021! Go Hawks!”

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