By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - With what we now know about the debilitating effects of playing football, I couldn’t blame anybody for leaving college early to enter the NFL Draft.
Should that rare opportunity present itself, I say take the money and run for as long as you can in a league where a career on average lasts for fewer than four years and where the physical violence can take a heavy toll on a person’s mind and body.
It can be deflating for the fans of the college teams that are left behind, as Hawkeye fans are feeling that right now with the early departures of tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, defensive back Amani Hooker and defensive end Anthony Nelson.
Hockenson was the last among the four to announce his decision as he waited until the deadline on Monday to make it official.
Iowa football also confirmed the departures of Hockenson, Hooker and Nelson, but made no mention of Fant in its release on Monday, although, Fant's departure, which came shortly after the regular season, had been addressed in a previous release.
The loss of these four star players will undoubtedly effect Iowa next season and will test the program’s ability to reload rather than rebuild.
Four players doesn’t make a football team, but losing four real good players at the same time does make a difference.
The level-headed fans should be willing to accept it and understand that the four Iowa players are doing what they feel is in their best interest.
You can disagree with whether you feel a certain player is making the right decision from a talent, timing and potential standpoint.
But you shouldn’t criticize anybody for trying to pursue a dream that could have a life-changing impact.
Playing football is a race against time, and one or two years can make a significant difference on a person's body, and in a person's bank account.
If Hockenson truly believes that he will be selected high enough in the draft to justify leaving, then why not leave?
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Hockenson is hot right now as the John Mackey Award winner, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate tight end, and it’s reasonable to think that he has received a favorable grade from the NFL talent evaluators and advisors or he wouldn’t be leaving.
It’s the same with Hooker, Fant and Nelson in that all four have done their research and have talked to the right people to see where they stand.
There is no way to know for sure because the draft still has some uncertainty despite all of the so-called draft experts sharing their expertise.
It seems likely that all four players have received enough accurate information to have a pretty good idea where they stand.
They also have the luxury of having Kirk Ferentz as an advisor.
Iowa’s head football coach is highly respected in the NFL and his opinion carries a lot of weight, both with his players and with NFL decision makers.
Ferentz probably has some mixed emotions right now because his 2019 squad has taken a major hit from a personnel standpoint.
Iowa has gone from having arguably the most dynamic tight end duo in college football to having only one tight end (Nate Wieting) with much game experience.
It’s a punch in the gut from a personnel standpoint, but Ferentz ultimately wants what is best for his players. And there are few things better in the mind of a college football player than a chance to get rich playing a game he loves.
Iowa is feeling the effects of a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.
Football is a violent and risky sport that sometimes has consequences for those who play it. So the quicker you can start making money, the better.
There is also an attractive and lucrative side to football for those who are fortunate enough to play the game at the highest level.
Ferentz has helped to produce more than his share of future NFL millionaires while at Iowa and now there could be more on the way.
The Iowa coaches can certainly use this mass exodus to their advantage in recruiting because making it to the NFL is the ultimate goal for practically every recruit.
Hockenson said in his announcement that playing in the NFL is a life-time dream, and now that dream is about to become a reality for the Chariton native.
Hockenson's decision makes even more sense when consider that he would've played next season without Fant, who always drew a crowd when he was on the field. There is a good chance that Hockenson's statistics would've dropped next season, and it would've been asking a lot for him to win the Mackey Award again.
So why not leave now?
Hooker also has momentum as the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, and it would be hard to accomplish that again next season.
But even if he did, there is no certainty that it would help his draft status.
All four of the Iowa players who declared for the draft deserve praise and thanks for what they accomplished in college.
They worked hard and sacrificed for the good of the team. They also took care of business off the field, and from all accounts, represented the program with class.
But at some point, a player with options has to put his needs before the team.
And that's what happens when a player declares for the NFL Draft.
The player is thinking of himself, but has earned the right to do so.
It’s not being selfish. It's being ambitious.