IOWA CITY, Ia. — Growing up in Toronto, Tevaun Smith didn’t have much reason or incentive to learn about the state of Iowa.
“I didn’t even know Iowa was a state,” Smith said Monday at media day. “I knew nothing about Iowa.”
Smith’s quest to play big-time college football changed that.
“Once I got out here, I fell in love with it,” said Smith, now a junior receiver on the Iowa football team.
Smith is also part of a growing list of Canadians making names for themselves as student-athletes in the U.S.
Smith began seizing the opportunity by enrolling at a prep school in Connecticut for his senior year. He earned all-New England accolades as a senior, as well as a scholarship offer from Iowa.
“A lot of guys are opening more doors,” Smith said of the Canadian pipeline, which includes having the first player selected in each of the last two NBA drafts. “Everybody is just getting that opportunity to show their talent, and that’s what we need. We don’t get that type of exposure in Canada.”
Smith is one of two Canadians on the 2014 Iowa roster. The other is sophomore defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie, who attended high school in Lake Forest, Ill., but is originally from Brampton, Ontario.
Smith played in all 13 games last season, making six starts for an Iowa team that finished 8-5 and doubled its win total from the previous season. Smith finished third on the team with 24 receptions for 310 yards and one touchdown — the first of his career, which came on a 55-yard catch-and-run against Michigan.
That burst was a glimpse of why Iowa receivers coach Bobby Kennedy is excited about Smith, who is entering the 2014 season as a starting wide receiver alongside Kevonte Martin-Manley.
“I think Tevaun has a great thirst and hunger to be really good,” Kennedy said. “I’ve said this before: He can be maybe as good I think as anybody I’ve had at that position.”
In addition to having good size for a receiver, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound-Smith also excels at getting open off the line of scrimmage and at maneuvering his body in traffic.
“He’s got good size and good speed,” Kennedy said, “but the thing that impresses me the most about him is … he’s as good a receiver I’ve ever had at releasing vs. the press (coverage). He has really good feet and an uncanny ability to use his body to lean back on guys.
“And he’s developing a more physical nature about him. So I think if that continues to progress, the sky is the limit for him.”
Smith appreciates the support from his position coach and uses it as inspiration.
“It’s pretty encouraging,” Smith said. “It’s always good to have a coach encouraging you throughout the year. He’s always pushing me and I’m willing to work every day to get better, and I want be that great receiver that he expects me to be.”
Iowa returns eight of its top 10 receivers from last season. However, the position is still considered suspect by some, mainly because of the absence of a big-play receiver. Iowa is one of three Big Ten teams that doesn’t have a player returning who had at least 400 yards receiving last season.
“All the receivers are ready and hungry,” Smith said, “and we’re excited for this season.”
Kennedy senses that excitement with how each of the receivers approaches the daily grind of playing big-time college football.
“I think when you talk about the wide receivers, they have a real strong work ethic,” Kennedy said. “They like what they do and they want to be good. So if they keep striving for that we’ll see positive results.”
THE WIDE RECEIVERS
Projected starters: Kevonte Martin-Manley, sr., 6-0, 205; Tevaun Smith, jr., 6-2, 200.
Keep an eye on: Derrick Willies, frosh., 6-4, 210.
Biggest question mark: Who will emerge as Iowa’s big-play receiver that stretches defenses, especially with speedy senior Damond Powell recovering from a sports hernia surgery?
Analysis: Depth will not be a problem. Three redshirt freshmen also will be in the mix for playing time, including Willies, who showed star potential in spring practice. The biggest concern is whether any of the receivers will develop into a big-play threat who stretches defenses. Smith showed signs of that last season while starting six games, as did Powell in limited duty.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football