Kirk Ferentz said recently that Iowa wasn't actively pursuing any graduate transfer running backs this offseason. It turns out that didn't mean Iowa wasn't still looking more options at the running back position, though, and this weekend they found one: JUCO running back Mekhi Sargent.
JUCO RB Mekhi Sargent enrolls at Iowa https://t.co/vq3a5WmjM2
— Blair Sanderson (@BlairRIVALS) June 10, 2018
Sargent, listed at 5'11'', 215 lbs, chose Iowa over offers from Louisville, New Mexico State, and UNI, per Rivals. He's originally from Key West, Florida, but he comes to the Hawkeyes from a place a little closer to Iowa City: Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. Academic issues forced Sargent to Iowa Western, but he absolutely flourished while there last season, running for a school-record 1,449 yards and 14 touchdowns on 204 carries (a sizzling 7.1 yards per carry) while fumbling just once. Those numbers earned him first-team JUCO All-America honors last year, as well as plenty of praise from his coaches:
Been around a lot of good ones. Hes the best we ever had. Tough, smart, great hands out of backfield. Huge pickup.
— Donnie Woods (@CoachWoods) June 10, 2018
In comments to Rivals' Blair Sanderson, Iowa Western head coach Scott Strohmeier was even more effusive in his praise:
"Mekhi is a complete back," said Strohmeier. "Great vision, breaks through arms tackles, great in pass protection, a great route runner and great hands. He always gets positive yards. He fits what the Iowa running game is all about. He's a tough, physical running back."
Not a bad pick-up for Iowa to land at almost the last possible moment for the 2018 season. Sargent redshirted one year at Iowa Western, so he has three years of eligibility (but no redshirt years) remaining at Iowa. He gives Iowa another option in the backfield for the 2018 season, where the options had previously looked somewhat slim, at least in terms of experience. Iowa returns two running backs who carried the ball in 2017 in Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. Young carried the ball 45 times for 193 yards (4.3 ypc) and two touchdowns, while Kelly-Martin carried the ball 20 times for 184 yards (9.2 ypc) and three touchdowns. Young added one reception for 23 yards while Kelly-Martin had four catches for 25 yards and a touchdown. Iowa also has 2017 recruit Kyshaun Bryan coming off a redshirt.
Iowa added one pure running back prospect in their 2018 recruiting class (big bruiser Henry Geil from Wisconsin) although there's been a lot of chatter that either Samson Evans or Tyrone Tracy, Jr. could give running back a shot as well. The addition of Sargent puts less pressure on Iowa's 2018 running back prospects and I'd guess that they end up redshirting this year, unless they absolutely jump off the page during training camp this August.
For now Young and Kelly-Martin are still the favorites to be Iowa's 1-2 punch at running back this year. They've been through the rigors of a Big Ten season now (or they were at least able to get a taste of it) and they're also more familiar with Iowa's offensive schemes and playbook, which should give them a leg up on Sargent. But there's a lot to like about Sargent, too, as you can see in his highlights:
He shows good burst and gets up to speed pretty quickly when he sees a hole or gets into the open field. He's also a physical runner, though -- he bounces off tackle attempts and runs out of several arm-tackle efforts here and rarely goes down on first contact. He seems to be a patient runner who reads his blocks well, though he's also got a little shiftiness to make something happen if the hole closes quickly. And he appears to be a very willing and capable blocker, which will certainly endear him to the Iowa coaches. His ability to pick up the blitz and catch the ball out of the backfield suggest that at the very least he could be a good option as a third-down back for Iowa, although he's definitely got the skills to be much more than just that, too.
Welcome to Iowa, Mekhi. We're excited to see what you can do in black and gold this fall.