The incoming freshman was experiencing the realization of a dream

T.J. Hockenson’s eyes widened just a bit.

The incoming freshman was experiencing the realization of a dream

held by tight ends growing up in Iowa.

He was becoming a Hawkeye, joining a collegiate program with a positional pedigree that has earned frequent references as “Tight End U.” Hockenson hadn’t been offered a scholarship by Iowa until his senior year of high school.

He sat patiently on an offer from in-state rival Iowa State, where his parents Tod and Teri had attended, but really wanted to join the fraternity of Iowa tight ends. Andy, one of T.J.’s two older brothers, made sure to snag some Hawkeyes gear from his own time on campus and float it toward T.J.

The patience was rewarded as T.J. stepped on campus as a freshman and met senior George Kittle for the first time.

“My first interaction, he was a fun, goofy guy,” Hockenson recalled. “I was a freshman, so my eyes were kind of wide open at the time. I didn’t really know. I was super nervous coming in and having the spotlight on tight ends with it being ‘The University,’ so to come in and have a guy like that, just super fun-loving and didn’t really care about much, just loved the game of football and wanted to get better every day. That was kind of a guy you could look up to, so that’s what I did.

“In meetings, he would sit in the back of the room, and Coach would ask me some questions, and he would just start chuckling, laughing at me, especially if I got it wrong,” Hockenson continued. “It was incredible to be there with him. He’s one of the best people I’ve been around and obviously a great player, too, so I was able to learn from a guy like that. It was incredible.”

Hockenson redshirted that year but benefited from a master’s class of sorts.

It was a helpful transition from his days at Chariton High School, where his collaborations with his quarterback were rudimentary.

“If they were double-teaming me and had an outside guy, it would be run a slant,” Hockenson said. “If it was press and [the defender] had inside leverage and a guy over the top of me, it was run a fade, so it was pretty simple at the time.”

But it worked to the tune of 238 receptions for 3,560 yards and 49 touchdowns for the Chariton Chargers.

Each snag reinforced his love for the position that is deeply connected to a 2010 Week 3 game between the 49ers and Chiefs in Kansas City. Rookie Tony Moeaki, another Hawkeyes tight end who had been drafted by the Chiefs in the third round, reached out his right arm and speared an 18-yard touchdown pass by Matt Cassel with one hand.

“I was at the game where he had that one-handed catch in the back of the end zone. It was sick, so it was kind of just one of those things I gravitated toward and ended up making it fun,” Hockenson said. “We had a good quarterback when I moved [to Chariton], so it was kind of a no-brainer to be able to do everything, just a big body, and I kind of got drawn toward it from Tony.”

Run blocking during his prep days involved executing inside or outside zone plays, but the demands for the position increased in Iowa City.

“Once you get to college, the playbook expands, but you’ve got to be able to do a lot,” Hockenson said. “At Iowa, they asked us to block a lot, so that was a thing I prided myself in, just being able to block and control guys and do what I could, because I was a true Y at Iowa. Then, to come to the league, everything is just a lot faster.”

Hockenson played at 255 pounds at Iowa but then was asked to slim down to 245 after his selection in the first round by Detroit in 2019. The goal is to run routes against nickel defensive backs, safeties or linebackers while being able to have enough strength to block on run playsThe playbook got crazy big, obviously. I mean you can do everything, and the tight end needs to know, not as much as a quarterback, but pretty close because we have to know protections, run scheme, the pass scheme,” Hockenson said. “We have to know when we’re out and when we’re in checks and all that stuff, so we get moved a lot, especially with me playing the Y and the F. In 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends), I’ll be the F and you kind of have to flip your brain, and then playing 13 (one running back and three tight ends) X or 13 Z, I’ve got to be the Z or the X, so there’s just a lot more you have to learn and a lot more that you have to do. It’s definitely expanded, and your.

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