The Iowa Football program lost some pretty talented defensive backs to graduation after the 16-17 season. For instance, they lost former Jim Thorpe Award Winner, Desmond King - who'll likely be taken in the first few rounds of this year's NFL Draft - Greg Mabin, and then Anthony Gair as well.
Miles Taylor would return at a safety spot and so would Brandon Snyder. The safeties looked like the strong point in the defensive backfield with two starters departing at corner. However, during spring practice, Snyder - who started every single game last year for Iowa - tore his ACL and Iowa announced he'd miss the entire 17-18 season.
Enter the inexperienced, former walk-on, Jake Gervase.
The Davenport Assumption grad was just put on scholarship during the spring and it's clear he's earned it with the way he dazzled the 16,500 fans inside Kinnick Stadium on Friday night.
He picked off 3 passes - one of which he took back for six points - and seemed to "have the script" as head coach Kirk Ferentz put it during his post game press conference.
"It looked like he had the script tonight. It looked like he got good jumps on those balls, read them well, and made some good plays certainly," Ferentz said.
"Jake has worked hard to that point, he's had a good spring practice, and he was doing a lot of good things last year on special teams. He's kind of climbing the ladder every step. Amani Hooker has done a lot of the same things as well, and obviously with Brandon being out we're going to need help from everybody and it looks like we have a couple of guys stepping up ready to help out," Ferentz added about his safeties.
Gervase himself gave a lot of the credit to his teammates on defense after his performance on Friday night, claiming he was just in the right spot at the right time.
"It was a lot fun," Gervase said on Friday night. "All the credit goes out to the d-line, the linebackers, and coach Parker. They were putting us in the right schemes and just going out here and competing in front of the fans at Kinnick was a lot of fun, but all the credit goes to my teammates, I was just in the right place at the right time," Jake added.
He also emphasized Iowa's next-man-in mentality that they all have because as we know, injuries pop up quite frequently in this game.
"It sucks Brandon went down, he's a great guy, a great leader on our defense, and a tough kid, but it's next man in mentality and nothing is guaranteed. So, I was just given the opportunity and I'm trying to make the most of it," he said about Snyder's season ending injury.
News broke that Snyder would be done for the year a few weeks back when Iowa had their open practice in West Des Moines and initially I thought that safety was one of the two spots on defense that Iowa couldn't afford a big injury because of their lack of experience. I still feel that way today, but watching the way Gervase played on Friday has to have the staff feeling a bit more comfortable.
We're still a ways off in terms of fall camp, but seeing Gervase step up for the Iowa defensive backfield is an encouraging sign from a pretty thin secondary. They'll bring in some more manpower this summer when safeties Djimon Colbert, Camron Harrell, and Geno Stone get to campus. Matt Hankins, Josh Turner, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Trey Creamer are the other DB's Iowa is bringing in, but they all project to corner.
Talented safety Amani Hooker has been doing some good things in camp as well and should battle Gervase for that starting spot, although Gervase appears to have a slight lead at this point. And his performance on Friday should only help his case.
Fall camp begins for the Hawkeyes in early August.