IOWA CITY, Ia. — There will be a lot of familiar faces on the field at Kinnick Stadium today when Iowa conducts its annual spring football game. Thirteen starters return from last season’s Outback Bowl team.
But there are also some players who have yet to play a down but have worked their way into the two-deeps heading into Saturday’s 2 p.m. contest at Kinnick Stadium.
Here are five guys you maybe haven’t heard much about, but you’ll want to keep at least one eye on them Saturday:
No. 18, Derrick Willies, wide receiver
One of four freshman wide receivers that redshirted last season, Willies has hit the ground running this spring.
“He goes for the ball,” quarterback Jake Rudock said. “He’s a big body, which is really good. Just the fact that he’ll go up and get it. He doesn’t care. He’s trying to get to the ball.”
Willies, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder, dazzled fans at the open practice at Valley Stadium on April 12 with a 50-yard reception from C.J. Beathard.
“He still has a lot of work to do,” wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. “But the thing that encourages me about Derrick is I have seen him make great strides from when he stepped on campus to where he is now. He’s made some really good plays and some really big plays this spring.
“And so it excites us because here’s this kid who’s big, fast, can run, and he has a really good demeanor about him.”
No. 79, Sean Welsh, offensive line
Another redshirt freshman, Welsh is listed as the starter. He is Conor Boffeli’s successor at left guard.
“He got moved in with the first group, and he’s doing a heck of a job,” starting left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “He’s really improved this spring.”
Offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said the 6-3, 285-pound Welsh has everything but experience.
“What he needs to improve on is playing,” Ferentz said. “He hasn’t played very much. That’s not his fault, but he needs to get more experience and continue to grow, and the only way to do that is to play.”
Defensive end Mike Hardy has had his battles with Welsh in practice.
“I could tell last year, when he was a true freshman, that he was going to be a good player,” Hardy said.
No. 47, John Kenny, linebacker
A redshirt freshman, Kenny shares the backup spot at both middle and weak-side linebacker.
“In high school he was a terrific player on the outside, and then we moved him inside,” assistant coach Jim Reid said. “It’s not an easy defense from the standpoint of making calls, and John is playing the position that he has to make a lot of calls. He was a little confused last spring. He got much better in the fall. But we decided to redshirt him, and I think that was a good decision because he’s playing really, really well right now, playing faster. He’s more sure of himself, and just doing a great job in school and every place else.”
The 6-2, 215-pound Kenny, from Carmel, Ind., enrolled for the spring semester last season and took part in spring drills a year ago. That helped speed up the learning curve.
“So you’ve got a confident player who you should watch during the spring game, number 47,” Reid said.
No. 52, Boone Myers, offensive line
Northern Iowa offered him a scholarship, but Myers went pretty much under the Division I radar as a senior at Webster City in 2012. But defensive line coach Reese Morgan saw him and liked him. He was offered a preferred walk-on spot, and he took it. Morgan’s ability to find overlooked gems is a trend. Remember Chad Greenway?
“Boone Myers is a perfect example, a guy that’s really doing a lot as a freshman, as a first-year player for us, and here’s a guy that played tight end in a single wing in Webster City,” offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said.
Now 6-5 and 285 pounds, the redshirt freshman is listed as a backup to Welsh at left guard. Myers has also received reps behind Scherff at tackle.
“He likes to finish,” Scherff said. “He’s a tough, physical guy. He’s going to be a great player for us.”
No. 43, Josey Jewell, linebacker
This 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman started spring ball sharing the backup spot at weakside linebacker behind Reggie Spearman. He’s now listed No. 2 behind Travis Perry at outside linebacker.
“Jewell is just a football player,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said.
He’s been hard to miss when coaches have reviewed tape of spring practice.
“We look it and say, ‘Who is the guy going out and making plays?’” Parker said. “You just watch the film and you watch the guys running around on tape, and you see him tracking guys down.”
Jewell, a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class, is in position to make a multi-year impact on the program.
“Somewhere, he’s going to have to fit in our system, OK, because when you give that much effort and you attack the football the way he does and make plays the way he’s done, he’s going to probably show up,” Parker said. “Does he know everything right now? Not yet, but he still has a long way to go.”