By Luke Meredith, AP Sports Writer
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — After largely avoiding the junior college and graduate transfer markets under coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa found success a year ago with one-and-done running back James Butler.
The Hawkeyes might have landed another solid transfer back in Mekhi Sargent.
Sargent parlayed one brilliant season at junior college power Iowa Western into a full ride with the Hawkeyes — and it sounds as though he won’t have to wait long for playing time. Ferentz said Saturday that he envisions a three-man backfield in 2018 with Sargent complementing freshmen Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin.
“Well, I think I speak as a staff, I think we’re all hopeful that we can get to that point. That was one of the primary reasons we made that move,” Ferentz said about using three backs this fall. “We have two freshmen that we really like, but we wanted to have at least three guys on campus.”
The third guy was supposed to be Toks Akinribade, but he was forced to retire from the game because of medical issues. That left the Hawkeyes scrambling to find another back after also losing Akrum Wadley (1,109 yards and 10TDs in 2017) and Butler to graduation.
Though Butler was limited to just 396 yards because of injuries last season, he was a factor when he could find the field.
During that time, Butler’s de facto replacement was busy proving he belonged at a Power Five program.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Sargent didn’t get the Division I opportunity he was hoping for despite rushing for 2,094 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior at Key West High in Florida. Sargent chose instead to start his career at Iowa Western, where he racked up 1,449 yards rushing and 16 total touchdowns in just 10 games.
The offers predictably started coming in after last season, most notably from Louisville. But Sargent had been on Iowa’s radar after an impressive performance in a postseason game at nearby Northern Iowa in December.
Sargent described his decision to choose Iowa over other schools earlier this summer as a “no-brainer.”
“I feel like it’s come pretty natural to adjust from the junior college level,” Sargent said.
Iowa will likely lean on Young as its main back and use Kelly-Martin in change of pace and third-down situations to start 2018. But Sargent will get a shot as well, and the opportunity to carve out a much bigger role could be there for him given the lack of experience in the Hawkeyes’ backfield.
“The big question was, ‘How is Mekhi going to do with us?’ He was great in the summer program, great attitude, is a really impressive young guy, seems very humble and very appreciative, and now we’ve got seven practices under our belt,” Ferentz said. “And I’m not going to give a lot of scouting reports, but Mekhi looks like he’s really starting to warm up.”
Iowa (8-5 in 2017) opens its 20th season under Ferentz on Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois.