IOWA CITY, Iowa - When Iowa football is clicking, it's developing players that often emerge after at least a few years in the program. The roster normally lacks many blue-chip, ready-made recruits able to transition quickly from high school to college.
After two years spent mostly on special teams, Anthony Hitchens emerged in 2012 as a productive starting linebacker. He raised his level of play higher last fall and wound up being a fourth-round draft pick of Dallas earlier this month. An injury to Sean Lee this week thrust the Ohio native into the spotlight as a possible replacement in the starting lineup.
Hitchens boasted scholarship offers from Indiana and Kansas when he chose Iowa but he was by no means heavily recruited. He worked out at running back and defensive back during practice in his first season with the Hawkeyes.
Pat Angerer, who played the last four years in Indianapolis, emerged as a starter three games into his junior season at Iowa. Bradley Fletcher, a five-year NFL veteran, didn't move onto the first team until his final campaign with the Hawkeyes.
Karl Klug, Brandon Myers and Julian Vandervelde represent more Iowa players parlaying upperclassmen emergence into NFL careers. Other former Hawkeyes simply helped the program as juniors and seniors before moving on from the game.
If Iowa is to build on last year's eight-win season and compete for a Big Ten championship, some lesser known names must surface. Coach Kirk Ferentz refers to them as "good stories."
Let's take a look at some candidates:
Riley McMinn, DE
Following a redshirt season to add much-needed weight to his 6-foot-7 frame, the Rochester, IL product popped up on the depth chart in 2012 as a second-year freshman. The coaches felt like he would contribute early at a position of need. Injuries have derailed that plan but McMinn got back on track this spring. Despite the health issues, he's added strength and could play a key role in a four-man defensive end rotation with Drew Ott, Mike Hardy and Nate Meier.
Andrew Donnal, OL
Donnal arrived at Iowa with the fanfare of being a U.S. Army All-American. He saw limited action as a redshirt freshman in '11 and an injury ended his sophomore season with five games to go. Last fall, he played an important role as a reserve, plugging holes at tackle and guard. This spring he was listed as the No. 1 right tackle. At 6-foot-7, 305-pounds, Donnal is physical and athletic. He's poised for a breakout senior season teaming with LT Brandon Scherff to give the Hawkeyes impressive bookends.
Marshall Koehn, PK
The Solon (Iowa) product has waited his turn and honed his craft behind Mike Meyer for the last three years. Koehn appears to have the inside track on the job but is being pushed by strong-legged JUCO transfer Alden Haffar. Incoming freshman Mick Ellis, who was awarded a scholarship, also could have a say in who starts. Koehn lacks the leg strength of Haffar but he shows more accuracy. Perhaps Koehn handles field goal duties, Haffar kicks off and Ellis red shirts. However it shakes out, it's a crucial position with the Hawkeyes often involved in a lot of close games.
Tevaun Smith, WR
The Canadian opened people's eyes with an impressive 55-yard touchdown reception igniting a comeback win against Michigan last November. For the season, he caught 24 passes for 310 yards. You get the sense that Smith will break out in '14 during his true junior campaign. He offers an impressive combination of size and speed that make him a tough match-up for opposing defensive backs. Don't be surprised if Smith surfaces as the Hawkeyes receiving leader this fall.
Ray Hamilton, TE
Like his Ohio brethren Donnal, Hamilton represented a big recruiting victory for Iowa. The Strongsville product reported scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Michigan and Wisconsin, to name a few. He played as a true freshman in '11 but mostly has been used on special teams and as a blocker. He's totaled 11 career receptions for 130 yards without reaching the end zone. Hamilton delivered a long touchdown catch in the spring game, displaying the power and speed that made him such a coveted high school prospect. With C.J. Fiedorowicz off to the NFL, Hamilton is positioned to be the program's next standout tight end.
Quinton Alston, MLB
The poster child for being a team player, the New Jersey product as patiently waited for his turn behind four-year starter James Morris. Alston has stood out on the special teams and last year received some situational work at linebacker and defensive end. As a fifth-year senior, Alston provides the Hawkeyes the luxury of having a physically and mentally ready fifth-year senior capable of stepping in and minimizing the drop-off from Morris' exit as the quarterback of the defense.
Jordan Lomax, DB
Lomax opened last season as a starting cornerback. A hamstring injury in Week 1 sidelined him for several games and Desmond King emerged in his absence. Lomax returned for spot duty at corner before working out at free safety during bowl preparations in December. That transition continued in the spring and the Washington D.C. native enters camp No. 1 on the depth chart there. His development at a key position could go a long way in determining how good Iowa performs in the back end.