April 12, 2011
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Spring brings optimism to the University of Iowa football program, especially within a receiving group that is completing its first 15 practices without leader Marvin McNutt.
With McNutt rehabbing from successful shoulder surgery, several youngsters have stepped up in drills, gaining experience in a pressure-free environment with on-going evaluations. Hawkeye fans have yet to see Joe Audlehelm, Blake Haluska or John Chelf in action. And someone in particular that has been turning heads this April is an outstanding athlete from Oskaloosa, Iowa.
No, not All-American strong safety Tyler Sash; his future is on NFL Sunday's. Instead it is Steve Staggs, Sash's former AAU and high school teammate, who has had a productive spring camp. It will be odd for Staggs to be on a team without Sash, as the two began as teammates in first grade.
Staggs is the lone native of Oskaloosa on the Hawkeye roster now and he is thriving in the heat of the preseason receiver battle.
"Everybody's competing for a starting job right now," said UI receivers coach Erik Campbell. "Steve is stepping up and playing well and making plays and working hard in practice to make something happen."
Staggs, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior, has not played in a collegiate game. He joined the team as a walk-on and redshirted in 2008. He did not see action in 2009 or 2010 during a span when the Hawkeyes were loaded with talented receivers like McNutt, Colin Sandeman, Trey Stross and Paul Chaney, Jr.
The future appears to belong to McNutt, Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley, but Staggs has been a frequent target of the UI quarterbacks this month, even though Staggs is not listed on the most recent depth chart. Those spots are occupied by the above-mentioned trio as well as sophomore Don Shumpert.
"It's been going really well," Staggs said. "We've been short on numbers, so that has given a bunch of other guys opportunities; just getting more reps this year than usual has been something I've been able to improve upon and make myself a better receiver."
"Everybody's competing for a starting job right now. Steve is stepping up and playing well and making plays and working hard in practice to make something happen."
UI receivers coach
Staggs has benefitted from sideline tutoring by McNutt. "That helps a lot when you have someone like Marvin to coach you up on things," Staggs said.
With 88 receptions for 1,546 yards (17.6 yards per catch) and 16 touchdowns, McNutt -- an imminent professional player -- is a lock for a starting position. But compared to last season, the Hawkeyes are now without 150 catches, nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns -- plus their starting quarterback of three seasons. That is nearly 70 percent of the team's receptions, which leaves plenty of chances for players like Staggs.
"I've just been waiting. We've had so many great receivers," Staggs said. "I've been waiting my turn and learning from them and now I'm kind of getting my chance to show what I've been learning and how hard I've been working.
"I'm just hoping to get on the field any way I can, whether that's special teams or playing receiver. It really doesn't matter, I just want to play and help out my team."
In high school Staggs earned three varsity letters as a receiver, defensive back and punter. He hauled in 64 passes for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns, including 43 catches and eight touchdowns as a senior in 2007.
His journey as a member of the Hawkeye program is not unprecedented. Don Nordman, another home-grown Iowa walk-on, paid his dues and had a combined three receptions heading into his final game at the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28. Early in the second quarter, Ricky Stanzi hit Nordman for a 38-yard gain to the Missouri 20. Four plays later, UI kicker Mike Meyer converted a 34-yard field goal and the Hawkeyes led 17-3 in a game they won, 27-24.
The next Nordman could be Staggs. Staggs finds something new to work on every day, whether it's improved route-running or breaking routes off in protection.
"So far, so good," Campbell said. "Our guys are getting better every day. They keep working and Steve is working hard right now. I've been impressed with his ability to get open. He's running good routes."
Iowa's final practice of the spring on Saturday, April 16, is open to the public. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. and action begins at noon.