By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - A sudden rise to stardom that T.J. Hockenson has described as being surreal took another significant step on Monday as he declared for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Iowa’s All-America sophomore tight end announced his decision on Twitter, and it came as no surprise since speculation had him leaning towards entering the draft.
However, Hockenson waited until the final day to announce his decision with Monday being the deadline to declare for the draft. So there was hope that he might decide to return to Iowa.
"This was a very difficult decision because of the love and respect I have for the University of Iowa, coach Kirk Ferentz and the entire coaching staff, along with my teammates," Hockenson said. "However, my dream has always been to play in the NFL and I believe now is the right time."
Hockenson told the media after Iowa’s 27-22 victory over Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day that he was 95 percent sure about his decision, and that he wanted to spend some time with his parents before announcing it.
Hockenson is the fourth member of Iowa's 2018 team to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft. The others are tight end Noah Fant, defensive back Amani Hooker and defensive end Anthony Nelson.
Hockenson’s decision makes sense from a momentum and from timing standpoint because he certainly has it after winning the prestigious John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate tight end.
He also has the statistics after finishing with nearly 800 receiving yards this season, and the size at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds.
Hockenson and Fant formed one of the most dynamic duos at tight end in program history and both have been listed high in mock drafts.
Hockenson is believed to be the first player to leave Iowa for the draft with two seasons of eligibility remaining. He is a third-year sophomore after being redshirted, whereas Fant and Hooker both played as true freshmen and are now third-year juniors.
A player has to be out of high school for at least three years to be eligible for the NFL Draft.
Iowa now has four tight ends returning on scholarship, including senior Nate Wieting.
The others are seniors Drew Cook and Nate Vejvoda and junior Shaun Beyer.
Wieting is the only one among the four who has caught a pass in college.
Iowa also has three high school seniors in its 2019 recruiting class, all of whom are from Illinois.