Ramon Ochoa. The Razor. Iowa fans remember him well for his heroics in 2004.
Thing is, no one saw it coming. For four years, Ramon toiled in anonymity before becoming Nathan Chandler’s top target on a 2003 Hawkeye team that won the Outback Bowl.
We all expect big contributions from fifth-year seniors like Adrian Clayborn, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Ricky Stanzi in ‘10. Juniors Marvin McNutt and Tyler Sash carry expectations based on past performance.
All of those players once were no-names or afterthoughts, to a degree. Every year, guys emerge like Ochoa, although maybe not to that extreme.
Let’s take a look at five guys (in no particular order) who might be ready to step into the spotlight this fall:
Adam Gettis, OG - The junior was afforded a chance in last year’s opener against Northern Iowa. He struggled mightily before bouncing back for a decent showing against Iowa State.
The thing to remember is that players progress at different rates. Pat Angerer is a great example as he entered his junior season on the second team.
Gettis learned as a back-up in ‘09. Coach Kirk Ferentz said he improved as much as anybody on the team since last season and expected his guy to be one of the top guards in the Big Ten Conference this season. He’s never been one to throw compliments around carelessly.
As Ferentz mentioned this preseason, Gettis is a bit undersized at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. He’ll overcome that with technique and an attitude.
Gettis came out of Lincoln-Way High in Frankfort. Ill. as a two-star recruit. He played three years in the offensive line and two on the defensive front.
Mike Daniels, DT - Perhaps I’m a year early on this one with established defensive tackles Karl Klug and Christian Ballard returning. I just feel like Daniels is too good not to have some type of impact this year.
I expect Daniels to start against Eastern Illinois with Ballard sliding to the outside to replace suspended end Broderick Binns. Daniels will show well enough in that game to force the coaches’ hand to get him reps throughout the year.
I truly believe that Daniels would start on most lines in the Big Ten and likely be a star on quiet a few of them. At 6-1, 275 pounds, Daniels is a tree stump with a motor that doesn’t quit.
The New Jersey native played running back and on the defensive line at Highland High. He accumulated 27 sacks and rushed for 2,203 yards and 25 scores in his career.
Brad Herman, TE - Despite playing as a true freshman in 2008, Herman has been forgotten by many Hawkeye followers. He’s caught one pass for three yards in two years which has helped keep him largely anonymous.
Herman, a tremendous athlete, was ranked the No. 33 middle linebacker in the country for ‘08 by Scout.com. He stacked up 110 tackles and three interceptions as a senior to go along with 578 yards and six touchdowns as a tight end. He was named first-team, all-Illinois by the state’s coaches and the Chicago Tribune.
Much like Brandon Myers, Scott Chandler and current senior Allen Reisner, Herman needed to improve in his blocking to play. He was lacking the physique of a bruising tight end. He and position coach Eric Johnson reported that progress has been made as you can read here.
I know some folks expect true freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz to step in behind starter Reisner. My money is on Herman to be the second guy this season.
Tyler Nielsen, LEO - The Humboldt High product served as an apprentice to A.J. Edds, the best LEO in the Ferentz Era. He came into Iowa as a four-star recruit, according to Scout.com, the No. 3 WLB in the country and a U.S. Army all-American.
Nielsen has added about 25-30 pounds to his 6-4 frame to weigh in at about 235 pounds heading into ‘10. Edds played at 244 pounds last season at the same height as Nielsen.
The LEO position requires the most versatility of Iowa’s linebacker positions. Sometimes the player starts up in the line and at others he’s in coverage with the tight end.
Nielsen has shown his abilities as a strong special teams player the last two seasons. Plenty of Hawkeyes before him have cut their teeth on those units before contributing significantly as every down athletes.
Nielsen has been a little dinged up in camp. If he can stay healthy, he could be the breakout player on Iowa’s defense this fall. Check out comments from him in this feature.
Markus Zusevics, OT - It’s a big year for breakout players from Illinois. Zusevics makes it three in our Top 5.
Ferentz has been talking up this 6-5, 295-pounder since the end of last season. As I said earlier, that usually means we should pay attention.
Zusevics was ranked as the 45th best offensive tackle in the Class of 2007. He helped lead his Prospect High team to the state championship in ‘05 and was a first-team, all-state performer as a senior.
Zusevics has added about 30 pounds since his arrival at Iowa. He showed his athleticism in high school as a four-year letter winner in volleyball as an outside hitter.
Zusevics is expected to lineup along side Gettis. Opponents, especially early in the season, will test the new starters with veterans Riley Reiff and Julian Vandervelde on the left side.
I think the red shirt juniors are up to the challenge. They’re holding their positions in camp without much trouble. And I think there are some good, young backups.