MNF: 49ers-Vikings Game Puts Iowa Pals George Kittle and T.J. Hockenson on Prime-Time Stage
Iowa has been producing NFL tight ends for years, with players like George Kittle and T.J. Hockenson leading the way.
In a recent nationally televised game, the San Francisco 49ers' starting offense cycled through the narrated intros. However, it was a mischievous-looking face that caught the attention of the 26 million viewers. George Kittle, with his long blond hair flowing over his shoulder pads, confidently introduced himself as a graduate of "Tight End University." This clever remark left no doubt that Kittle honed his skills at the University of Iowa, a program renowned for producing top-notch NFL tight ends.
The Iowa Hawkeyes have built their scheme around the tight end position, blending both flash and grit in a way that no other college team can match. Kittle himself attests to the emphasis Iowa places on run blocking, recalling how he was told on his first day that he needed to master this skill to see playing time. This instilled in him a passion for the game and a work ethic that sets him apart.
T.J. Hockenson, now a tight end for the Minnesota Vikings, was a redshirt in the tight end room during Kittle's fifth year at Iowa. Hockenson, who was drafted eighth overall in 2019, also credits Iowa for teaching him the importance of running off the ball and attacking players. The influence of Iowa's tight end program is evident in the number of alumni who have made it to the NFL. With five former Hawkeyes on opening weekend rosters this year, Iowa is tied with Georgia, Notre Dame, and Stanford for the most tight end alumni in the league.
The success of Iowa's tight ends extends beyond the number of players in the NFL. With a collective 94 catches for 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns this season, former Hawkeyes lead the league in tight end production. This dominance extends over the past five years, surpassing even well-known tight end factories like Miami, Notre Dame, and Stanford.
The impact of Iowa's tight end program can be attributed, in part, to current offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. A former tight ends coach for the New England Patriots, Ferentz understands the importance of developing players at this position. For Hockenson, who grew up idolizing former Iowa tight end Dallas Clark, playing for the Hawkeyes was a dream come true. The winning tradition and the support of his brothers, who also attended Iowa, helped him navigate the challenges of the NFL.
Off the field, Kittle and Hockenson have formed a close bond. They train together in the offseason at Kittle's 75-acre property in Tennessee, which features a workout facility and a football field. They also organize an annual summer summit called "Tight End University" for NFL tight ends to improve their skills and build camaraderie.
Kittle's influence extends beyond his training sessions. During a game in 2018, he wore a microphone and celebrated a touchdown catch by teammate Garrett Celek, declaring it "National Tight Ends Day." This lighthearted comment gained traction on social media, and the league now officially observes National Tight Ends Day on the fourth Sunday in October.
The upcoming matchup between the 49ers and the Vikings is a fitting occasion to celebrate National Tight Ends Day. Kittle and Hockenson will have the opportunity to showcase their skills on a grand stage and demonstrate how far they've come since their days at Iowa. While Kittle jokingly mentioned selling Hockenson's trade secrets to the 49ers' defensive backs, it's clear that there is a mutual respect between the two players.
In conclusion, the University of Iowa's tight end program has produced some of the most talented players in the NFL. Kittle and Hockenson are shining examples of the program's success, and their impact goes beyond the field. They have formed a tight-knit community of tight ends and continue to elevate the position with their performances. As National Tight Ends Day approaches, football fans can look forward to witnessing the skills and camaraderie of these exceptional athletes.