- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Iowa fans have to come to rely on consistently excellent play from the tight end position. The Hawkeyes have produced a strong line of All-Big Ten performers and NFL draft picks, including guys like Dallas Clark, Tony Moeaki, Brandon Myers, Erik Jensen and Scott Chandler.
Last season was a down year for tight end production in Iowa City, at least until C.J. Fiedorowicz started getting revved up late in the fall. Perhaps it was merely a prelude to a breakout campaign for the former stud recruit who looks poised for a big junior year.
"I've been working the last two years to be at this point," he told ESPN.com. "I've got a lot of confidence, but I guess I'll have to wait until the season comes around to really prove myself."
Fiedorowicz stood out this spring for the Hawkeyes, as head coach Kirk Ferentz said he was "clearly at a different level." The combination of feeling comfortable with the staff's expectations for him and a new offense that should feature the tight end had Fiedorowicz excited about the possibilities. New offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who coached Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley at Texas, raved about Fiedorowicz's skills this spring while promising to use him in the passing game.
"I love his new style of offense," Fiedorowicz said. "It's easy to listen to him, with where he came from and having all that success. Tight ends are in every play, and we caught hundreds of balls this spring. We have deeper routes, more detailed routes, and I love it. I think we'll definitely be throwing more than we have in the past."
Catching the ball has always been a strong skill for the 6-foot-7, 265-pounder. But performing the other tight end roles like blocking and giving consistent effort in practice were things he had to learn. A blue-chip recruit out of Johnsburg, Ill., Fiedorowicz played mostly on special teams as a freshman and did not catch a pass. Last season, he had only two catches in the Hawkeyes' first seven games.
But he finally began to turn things around in practice and earned his first career starting nod in the ninth game against Michigan. In Iowa's final four contests, he caught 12 balls for 105 yards, including touchdown grabs against Michigan State, Purdue and Oklahoma.
"It was a mental thing for me," he said. "I'd go out every day in practice and think, 'I don't want to have another repeat of my freshman year.' I really started applying myself."
A fully focused Fiedorowicz has seemingly unlimited potential. He was a star basketball player in high school who had scholarship offers from Indiana and Wisconsin (and once made a miraculous buzzer-beating shot from the opposite free-throw lane). His high school football team moved him to safety because no teams would run to his side when he played defensive end, making him perhaps the world's tallest defensive back.
"I didn't really have any pass responsibility, because none of the teams threw the ball," he said. "I was more like a deep linebacker. I'd give anything to do that again."
His father was a power lifter who got him interested in weight training in eighth grade. Good luck to any linebacker or safety trying to match up one-on-one with Fiedorowicz on a passing route.
"He's a real weapon because of his size and ability," Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said. "He can use his body to get open when maybe he's not really that open. We expect for him to make a lot of plays for us this fall."
Fiedorowicz was one of the top tight-end prospects in the country in high school and had his choice of schools. He opted for Iowa in large part because of the strong tradition of NFL tight ends the school has produced. Now he might be the next in line.
"I'm working hard to keep that streak going," he said.