By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz likes to call them stories and the feel-good story about T.J. Hockenson's improbable rise to stardom just keeps getting better.
In just three years, the Chariton native has gone from being an unheralded recruit who only had two power five scholarship offers from Iowa and Iowa State to just the second tight end from the University of Iowa to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Hockenson achieved that milestone on Thursday when the Detroit Lions selected him with the eighth pick overall in the 2019 NFL Draft.
He joins Dallas Clark as the only Iowa tight ends to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. Clark was selected 24th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 2003 and would go on to win a Super Bowl and make All-Pro.
Hockenson is also just the third player under Ferentz to be selected among the first eight picks in the draft.
Offensive linemen Robert Gallery and Brandon Scherff were selected second and fifth overall in 2004 and 2015, respectively.
"He's a throwback to the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. "He can block and get down the field and make the catch."
Iowa would make history later tonight if fellow tight end Noah Fant is also taken in the first round. It would mark the first time that two tight ends from the same school were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Hockenson said "Go Hawks" and shook hands with former Oklahoma head coach and former Iowa defensive back Bob Stoops as he walked from back stage to be congratulated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Stoops played at Iowa from 1979-82 under Hayden Fry.
Hockenson was redshirted as a true freshman in 2016 and then played two seasons in 2017 and 2018, but that was enough time for him to become one of the best tight ends in program history, and that’s saying a lot, considering Iowa’s rich tradition at tight end.
Hockenson led Iowa with 760 receiving yards on 49 catches this past season. He also scored six touchdowns and excelled as a blocker.
Hockenson was rewarded for his productivity by winning the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate tight end.
Clark also won the Mackey Award as a junior in 2003 and then skipped his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
Hockenson skipped both his junior and senior seasons to enter the draft, while Fant had one season of eligibility remaining.
They were both members of Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class, but Fant played as a true freshman in 2016, while Hockenson was redshirted that season.
Fant also flirted with stardom before Hockenson did by catching 11 touchdown passes as a sophomore in 2017 when Hockenson caught just three touchdowns. That was the most touchdown catches for an Iowa tight end in a single season.
Fant also led Iowa with seven touchdown catches this last season, but Hockenson led the team in receiving yards.
"He really took over for Noah Fant," Kiper said.
Hockenson is the 10th tight end from Iowa to be selected in the draft under Kirk Ferentz, which dates back to the 2000 draft.