After ‘hardest decision’ of his life, Iowa cornerback Riley Moss excited for final season with Hawkeyes

Moss spent most of last season convinced he was nearing the end of his Hawkeye career. Then, Moss decided to put off an NFL career in favor of returning to Iowa City for one more season.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa defensive back Riley Moss returns an interception for a touchdown during a football game between No. 18 Iowa and No. 17 Indiana at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Iowa cornerback Riley Moss spent most of the 2021 season convinced that his time as a Hawkeye was coming to an end.

As a senior, the Big Ten’s Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year picked off four passes and was named a first-team All-American by Sporting News. Moss went through Senior Day ceremonies in November and earned his degree in sports management from the University of Iowa in December. A career in the NFL seemed to be the next destination for Moss. But, as Iowa’s Jan. 1 matchup with Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl crept nearer, Moss started losing sleep — a lot of it. One thought kept going through his mind: Should he use the extra year of eligibility provided to him because of the 2020 COVID-19-impacted season?

Apparently, the answer was yes.

Four days after Iowa’s 20-17 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, Moss announced on Twitter that he was coming back for a fifth season with the Hawkeyes.

“It was the hardest decision of my entire life,” Moss said.

Moss and fellow senior defensive back Jack Koerner routinely stayed up past midnight in their Orlando hotel room ahead of the matchup with the Wildcats, discussing their futures.

The pair of Hawkeyes considered declaring for the NFL Draft, signing with the same agent, and staying in Florida to train. Koerner, a three-year starter at safety, ended up moving on toward a professional career. Moss, though, was having second thoughts about ending his college career. He had some unfinished business in Iowa City.

“Go to the NFL and make millions, or stay,” Moss said. “It’s a win-win. But, at the same time, you want to make sure that you’re making the right decision for yourself… The NFL will always be there for me. I figured, when I’m dead in the grave, I’m not bringing the money with me, I’m bringing the memories. I enjoy playing football at the University of Iowa. I figure those memories are going to last a lifetime.”

Missing three-and-a-half games with a knee injury last season was not a huge factor in coming back, Moss said. By the bowl game, Moss said he was close to 100 percent and the injury would not have hindered his draft stock (Moss was a projected mid-to-late-round pick). Still, the 6-foot-1, 194-pound corner who returned two interceptions for touchdowns against Indiana in the 2021 season-opener wanted to come back and strengthen his Iowa legacy. Moss is currently tied for 11th in Iowa history with 10 interceptions and ranks second with 293 interception-return yards.

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Moss, who sipped on a cup of black coffee during his first interview of spring practices, is now classified as a “non-degree undergraduate.” The former Ankeny Centennial prep said he is taking a smaller course load, which includes classes like “Acting for Success” and “Human Sexuality.”

As Moss likes to joke, he’s on the Matt Hankins plan.

Hankins returned for his fifth season at Iowa last year and earned Iowa’s Hayden Fry Award on defense as a cornerback.

Moss met with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Phil Parker shortly after the bowl game and informed them of his intention to return for another year. Their reactions were, well, unsurprising.

“I was excited,” Parker said. “You could see the stress the week of the bowl game for what decision he was going to make. I was excited about the reason why he came back. He knew what he had to do.”

What Moss has to do, as Parker would say, is get better at the point of attack.

Moss and Parker have met regularly and watched film this offseason. One of their focal points was taking every play in which Moss was in position to make a tackle and give those plays a plus or a minus based on the result of the play.

“I think he understood that it might be beneficial for him to come back and have the opportunity to keep being one of our leaders back there,” Parker said. “… He could do a lot of things athletically, but now he’s starting to catch on and starting to recognize things he can gather information-wise when we’re out there that’s going to help him become a better, more productive player.”

Iowa heads into the 2022 season having lost three starters in the secondary: Hankins, Koerner, and starting “Cash” Dane Belton, who declared for the draft after his junior season. Ahead of the start of spring practice, Iowa released a two-deep depth chart that had Moss and Jermari Harris as the starting cornerbacks, Kaevon Merriweather returning as the starting strong safety, and Quinn Schulte taking Koerner’s spot at free safety.

The Hawkeyes led the nation and set a program record with 25 interceptions last season. Despite having to replace productive players in the secondary, Iowa is confident in this new version of the “Dough Boyz.”

“I think we understand that, when we get on the field, us talking and communicating, I think we still have that camaraderie that we had this past fall,” Merriweather said.

Parker said Moss has played some reps at Cash, a slot defender position, this spring but will likely keep him at corner, where he has started 25 games for Iowa.

Three months after deciding to postpone a professional career and returning to Iowa City for one more season, Moss isn’t having trouble sleeping anymore. He’s having no trouble at all.

“I absolutely think I made the right decision,” Moss said, “and I’m excited for this year.”