Our Spidey-sense pinged about Rugamba's departure when he tweeted on July 3. Current players tweeting is never, ever a good sign. And, sure enough, it wasn't, Manny tweeted this out just a short time ago:
— Emmanuel Rugamba (@BooRadd_) July 9, 2018
It wasn't supposed to be this way for Rugamba. He was the guy who plenty of Iowa fans (myself included) thought would be the next standout Iowa cornerback. The future was bright for Rugamba back in 2016 when he made his debut. A season-ending injury to Greg Mabin created an opportunity over the final month of the season and Rugamba was the player selected to fill that Mabin-shaped hole and seize that opportunity. He made his first career start against Michigan and while he was picked on repeatedly by Michigan's passing attack, he held up well -- and in fact made one of the biggest plays of the game by intercepting Wilton Speight late in the fourth quarter to stop a promising Michigan drive and preserve Iowa's comeback hopes. Rugamba started two more games in 2016 before a collarbone injury ended his season.
Still, with King and Mabin both graduating after the 2016 season, he seemed poised to be the heir apparent at cornerback in 2017. Only that didn't exactly happen. Rugamba was suspended for the season opener against Wyoming for a violation of team rules, and while he returned to the starting lineup the next week against Iowa State and started eight of Iowa's next ten games after Wyoming, injuries and inconsistency took their toll on his playing time and effectiveness. Meanwhile Josh Jackson had emerged as the true heir apparent at cornerback, blowing up with one of the best single seasons in program history. The nadir for Rugamba hit against Purdue, when Rugamba got brutalized by Anthony Mahoungou for a touchdown. Michael Ojemudia and then Matt Hankins replaced Rugamba as the main corner opposite Jackson and Hankins held that spot for the remainder of the season. Rugamba saw limited duty against Nebraska and no action against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl.
That said, 2018 once again looked like a chance for Rugamba to again stake his claim to a starting spot in Iowa's secondary. Matt Hankins is expected to hold down his starting spot at one of the cornerback spots, but Jackson's early departure to the NFL opened up the starting job at the other cornerback spot. Rugamba and Ojemudia appeared to be the top contenders for that spot, but now it may be Ojemudia's by default.
Rugamba's departure leaves Iowa very light on experience at cornerback -- Hankins, a true sophomore, and Ojemudia, a redshirt junior. have each started just two games apiece. There aren't notable experienced players on the bench, either. Iowa's going to need them to stay healthy; they're also going to need some freshmen to emerge as viable options in the secondary. The good news is that Iowa has landed a lot of defensive backs in their last two recruiting classes, so there will be options. Josh Turner and Trey Creamer will both be redshirt freshmen this fall and there are also a few incoming freshmen who might be able to contribute immediately, such as D.J. Johnson, one of the most highly-regarded recruits in Iowa's 2018 recruiting class.
The lack of experience and depth at the cornerback position is concerning, but not as much as it would at another position, thanks to the presence of Phil Parker. He's spun straw into gold in the defensive backfield for Iowa for the last 20 years, so we certainly have full confidence in him coaching up Iowa's secondary to a high level once again this fall. In Phil we trust.
In the meantime, we wish Rugamba the best of luck in his next steps. Things didn't quite work out as planned at Iowa, but hopefully things a change of scenery will be what he needs to flourish. Good luck, Manny.