IOWA CITY — One of Iowa’s more experienced cornerbacks announced Monday night on social media that he wouldn’t be returning to the program. At a media availability session Tuesday, many of his former teammates said they were caught off guard by the news.
Manny Rugamba appeared to be in the mix for a prominent role at corner after starting eight games last season and finishing with 36 tackles and four pass breakups in 10 contests. His departure leaves junior Michael Ojemudia and sophomore Matt Hankins as Iowa’s only two at the position to have started a game.
“To be honest, I was a bit surprised,” senior safety Jake Gervase said. “But he’s doing what’s best for him. I wish him the best of luck. He’s a great guy, good friend. We’ll miss him in the back end, but he’s doing what’s best for him.”
Rugamba lost his starting job to Hankins late last season and was listed second on the spring depth chart at right corner behind Ojemudia. The native of Naperville, Illinois, will transfer to another school.
“I was surprised, but that’s all right,” junior safety Amani Hooker said. “That happens in college football, so you gotta move up, next guy steps in. I think we have a good group of guys to do that.”
Iowa’s other starting corner last season, Josh Jackson, earned All-America honors as a junior and declared early for the NFL draft, going to Green Bay in the second round.
Other contending corners this fall will be redshirt freshman Trey Creamer and touted true freshman D.J. Johnson. True freshmen Julius Brents and Terry Roberts are other candidates to watch.
Leadership group announced
Iowa players have already accomplished one task this month in voting on and unveiling their group of behind-the-scenes leaders for the upcoming season.
The team named 12 Hawkeyes to the group Tuesday, including a mix of upperclassmen and players from both sides of the ball. Seniors are Gervase, wideout Nick Easley, defensive end Parker Hesse, linebacker Aaron Mends, defensive lineman Matt Nelson and offensive lineman Keegan Render. Juniors are Hooker, linebacker Amani Jones, defensive lineman Anthony Nelson, fullback Brady Ross and quarterback Nate Stanley.
Running back Toren Young — Iowa’s top returning rusher (193 yards, two touchdowns in seven games) who played behind graduated feature back Akrum Wadley last year — was the lone sophomore named.
“To be voted on by teammates as a leader, it’s a great responsibility,” Young said. “It gives you a little sense of confidence to know that guys in the locker room that are older, younger, same age, look up to you and look at you as a leader. It definitely gives me a sense of confidence going into the season.”
Iowa had all 17 seniors and junior defensive back Brandon Snyder on the leadership group a season ago. The group assists in formulating policies and is involved in team decision-making throughout the year.
Lingering fallout from injury
Kristian Welch wanted the starting job at weak-side linebacker. But not like this.
The junior wouldn’t say his outlook has changed since his chief competition, the fifth-year senior Mends, went down with a serious knee injury late in the spring. He’s still grinding, watching spring film and working on his footwork, a guy working to be a leader to younger players at his position.
Still, he misses the way the two pushed each other earlier in the offseason.
“If I’m asked to start at that position, I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team,” Welch said. “But I respect him. That’s very unfortunate. We all work so hard in the offseason all year round to have a chance to start or to play, whether it’s special teams, defense, offense, it doesn’t matter.”
Welch, a junior from Iola, Wisconsin, is likely now competing with senior Jack Hockaday for the starting role. Mends could miss all of 2018 after making five tackles in 13 games last year.
Welch said he still has a bright outlook for the linebacking corps, which lost all three starters to graduation last year including All-American Josey Jewell.
“I would say this year it’s more of like a unit,” Welch said. “I’d rather have it be that way. I’d rather have it be three guys that are going to bust their tail and just work hard every single snap, every single game.”
Iowa safety goes long
Iowa’s leading returning tackler worked on his footwork and built chemistry with others during spring break.
In this case, neither had anything to do with football.
Gervase spent most of his week off in Cuba as part of a study abroad program. He lived with a host family and put his finance and management studies to work while learning about problems faced by a women’s co-op. He also took a crash course in Cuban jazz.
“It was fun to watch,” Gervase said Tuesday. “I had to get pushed into the circle a couple times. It wasn’t pretty. … I had fun with it, but it definitely wasn’t a pretty sight.”
Gervase — a 6-foot-1, 212-pound senior from nearby Davenport — has one more season to build on his 58 stops and three interceptions from 2017. But he said his time outside the country steeled his resolve to travel whenever his football career ends.
“I’ve always said I wanted to get away since I came to school so close from Davenport,” Gervase said. “Just learning about a new culture and meeting about all the people over there kind of solidified my plans in the future.”