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Football Big Three: Freshmen

BY SETH ROBERTS | JULY 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa football team added 25 new players to its roster in the off-season, including 24 freshmen. The following are the three freshmen The Daily Iowan believes will end up having the biggest careers in the Black and Gold.

3) Darian Cooper, defensive line

Cooper isn't the biggest incoming lineman to strap on pads for the Hawkeyes this season, but height only matters for so much.

The 6-1, 295-pound tackle played a prominent role in helping DeMatha High (Hyattsville, Md.) to a 9-3 record in 2010, and he earned All-State honors and a four-star grade from ESPN.com for his trouble.

And while the website repeatedly mentions Cooper's lack of height, it also raves about his power and leverage.

"He displays the ability to be able to quickly … muscle his way to the backfield," a scout said on Cooper's player profile. "He can be violent with his hands and displays the upper body strength to be able to … push blockers aside."

In short — no pun intended — he'll fit in just fine on an Iowa defensive line full of strong, explosive players.

2) Jake Rudock, quarterback

Unlike last year's highly touted quarterback prospect, A.J. Derby, there's no doubt that Rudock is a pure signal-caller.

He has the potential to be a damn good one, too.

The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native led St. Thomas Aquinas High to two national championships, three state titles, and three district and regional trophies. He holds school records for total yards (5,082), touchdown passes (73), and wins (31).

All that was enough to make ESPN.com's talent evaluators drool.

"[Rudock] leads receivers with zip and touch at the same time," a scout said on Rudock's profile. "[He] is very efficient as a signal-caller. He is a deceptively good athlete capable of eluding the rush and keeping a play alive while keeping his eyes downfield. Can tuck and run if need be and is a tough guy."

He'll be buried on the depth chart for a while, but don't be surprised if he jumps up the list in the near future.

1) Ray Hamilton, tight end

Hamilton's recruitment was a circus.

The native of Strongsville, Ohio, sifted through somewhere between 21 and 30 potential scholarships — including offers from such heavyweights as Wisconsin, Stanford, and Oregon — before landing at Iowa.

So what was all the hullabaloo about?

Oh, nothing much — just a four-star prospect considered to be the No. 8 tight end in the entire country.

Hamilton stands 6-5 and was as good a high-school receiving threat as anyone in the nation; he finished his prep career with 119 catches for 1,189 yards and 23 scores, and he would have had more if he hadn't missed half his junior season with a knee injury.

He also possesses a nasty competitive streak, and ESPN.com said he plays with an "angry approach."

"Anything I do — whether we're sitting at home playing a video game, competing in school, anything — my competitive nature is high as it can be," he told the DI in February.

That's a good thing for Hamilton, who will have to compete against a deep pool of Iowa tight ends for significant playing time as a freshman.

Still, Iowa has become a veritable tight-end factory — think Dallas Clark, Tony Moeaki, and Allen Reisner — and Hamilton could be the best talent in years.

Honorable mention: Austin Blythe, offensive line

At 6-3 and 285 pounds, Blythe is a large young man — and he knows how to use his bulk well enough that he holds the Iowa high-school wrestling record for career pins, with 143.

Throw in a high-school football career in which he racked up 123 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, and 14 sacks as a defensive lineman, and it's easy to get excited about the product of Williamsburg, Iowa.


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