Sam LaPorta is the latest to add to Iowa’s ‘Tight End U’ tradition

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Sam LaPorta (84) smiles as he answers interview questions after Iowa Spring football practice at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

NASHVILLE — Sam LaPorta recalls the time he met Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark.

It was during the fall camp of his first season in 2019.

“I was like, ‘Holy s—, it’s Dallas Clark!'” LaPorta said. “It’s really cool.”

The Highland, Illinois tight end had yet to play at Kinnick Stadium, but Clark knew his name.

It wasn’t just Clark. Whether it was TJ Hockenson, George Kittle or other NFL tight ends who went to Iowa, “they’ve had my back since day one.”

Three years after LaPorta’s first interactions with Clark, Hockenson, Kittle and others, his game was close to a Clark/Hockenson level.

“Sam LaPorta is the best football player I’ve ever coached, probably the best,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said.

The 6-foot-4 tight end ranks 15th in Iowa football history in receiving yards heading into the Music City Bowl with 1,730. With over 70 yards on Saturday, he could go up in 13th place.

LaPorta is well above Clark and Hockenson in Iowa’s all-time receiving yards rankings, though he had the four-year advantage to move up the ranks.

LaPorta had 53 catches for 601 yards in the 2022 regular season — more than Iowa’s top two wide receivers had combined — despite missing much of Minnesota’s game and the entire game of Nebraska with an injury.

Clark, by comparison, had 43 catches for 742 yards in 2002 when he caught passes from Heisman runner-up Brad Banks.

LaPorta was one of three finalists this year for the John Mackey Award, which recognizes the nation’s top tight end, and won the Big Ten’s Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award.

Despite his productive 2022 season, LaPorta said being a runner-up to Mackey “caught me by surprise” because he doesn’t pay attention to the “hype that’s going across the country.”

“I came back for my senior year, and I had very high expectations for myself and high expectations for the team,” LaPorta said. “Having achieved some of these individual goals that I set for myself meant a lot.”

His favorite memories, however, aren’t necessarily on the pitch.

“My favorite memories are probably with my teammates at lunch tables and at dinner tables,” LaPorta said. “I’m just talking about the most random stuff.”

LaPorta has taken on a leadership role as one of Iowa’s five permanent team captains in 2022.

“He’s been such a great leader for us, by example and by voice,” defensive lineman John Wagoner said. “He does everything the right way.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said LaPorta earned the respect of his teammates “just by who he is, how he carries himself on a daily basis.”

“He just does things the right way,” Ferentz said. “That’s what good players do, leaders. They do it daily, not once in a while.

When LaPorta missed the Nebraska game with a torn meniscus, he worked to be a “support teammate” on the sidelines while trying to speed up his recovery process in the locker room.

“I was actually keeping my knee in a compression machine, hoping I could reduce the swelling for a possible chance to play in the Big Ten championship,” LaPorta said.

LaPorta’s leadership has been on an offense that has received much outside scrutiny after ranking 130th out of 131 teams in the regular season in total offense.

“When the bullets are flying and there’s outside noise, we try to look past it and look around,” LaPorta said. “We lean on each other even more than before adversity hit.”

LaPorta is among the seniors who have chosen to continue playing in the Music City Bowl despite already having a suitable resume for the NFL Draft.

“He could easily not play in that bowling game because he’s got a lot of tape, but he’s doing it because he loves being with us and loves this program,” Wagoner said.

He not only practiced tight end before the Music City Bowl, but also quarterbacked in case something happened to Joe Labas and Carson May.

“How do I see him as an emergency quarterback?” said Brian Ferentz. “He’ll probably make a few plays because that’s usually what he does when he has the ball in his hands.”

LaPorta has his share of fun off the court, too.

“He’s goofy,” offensive lineman Mason Richman said. “He is wild. He’s funny.”

When Iowa’s 2020 trip to the Music City Bowl was canceled due to COVID-19 issues in the Missouri schedule, LaPorta went to Nashville anyway.

“Well, my buddies said they had the Airbnb and they couldn’t get it refunded, so they were like, ‘Hey, come to Nashville anyway,'” LaPorta said. “I was like, ‘Okay, yeah.'”

As for LaPorta’s NFL buddies, they “hit me up from time to time like, ‘Hey, if you need anything, don’t be afraid to ask.'”

Other times, they’ll text each other after “hey, good game” and “little things like that.”

“Even those little things have a big impact on someone,” LaPorta said, “because I see them on the next level, and I think that’s really cool, and I look up to them.”

Beyond the Music City Bowl, it might be LaPorta’s turn to be the NFL guy texting a young tight end from Iowa soon.

“I’m sure it’s going to be awesome watching it on Sunday,” Hockenson told The Gazette last month.

Comments: [email protected]

Comments are closed.