Undersized Hesse delivering for Iowa
CHICAGO — Parker Hesse was lightly recruited coming out of Waukon High School in the northeast corner of Iowa. He played all over for the Indians and captained the team as a senior, but he heard mostly from Missouri Valley and Division I-AA programs when he started examining his options for college.
Iowa was the only major school that showed that any interest.
“We’re a team that tends to project,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We look at guys that play maybe other positions. And if we think we find something in terms of their makeup and their competitiveness that we like, we’ll recruit them and then figure out where they’re going to play later on.”
It’s worked out quite well for Hesse, and the Hawkeyes.
Hesse has turned into one of the leaders on Iowa’s defensive line despite barely playing the position in high school. At just 6-foot-3, 261 pounds, too.
“Being an undersized guy, you kinda got to rely on other tactics,” Hesse said Tuesday at Big Ten football media days. “Technique. Fundamentals. Kind of anticipating things before the play and playing within yourself.”
Hesse was a linebacker when he arrived on campus at Iowa, but he moved to defensive end at the end of his redshirt season in 2014. He made eight starts and played in 14 games the following year, finishing with 44 tackles, two sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.
The 23-year-old Hesse, a Wisconsin native who graduated last year, said he didn’t really take to defensive end at first.
“There was definitely a transition period,” the senior said. “It took a little while and it took the coaching staff and the older players helping me out. But you know because of them I was able to grow and develop.”
Hesse turned in another solid all-around performance last season, helping Iowa to an 8-5 record and a 27-20 victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. He collected 43 tackles, four sacks, one interception and a fumble recovery.
Ferentz said Hesse’s attitude is a key part of his game.
“Talking about guys we respect in our program, Parker certainly earned that,” he said. “Everybody on our team thinks the world of him. He’s a tremendous young person and outstanding student. Checks all the boxes. Players like that help you hopefully have a chance to put a good team together.”
Hesse is part of a deep group of defensive linemen coming back for the Hawkeyes. Matt Nelson, Sam Brincks and Anthony Nelson are among the returning lettermen.
Hesse has gone from learning his position to helping teach the younger players, including touted sophomore A.J. Epenesa, who could be primed for a breakout year.
“Pushing the pace is kind of going to be hopefully our identity as a defensive line,” Hesse said. “We want to be, you know, the guys, we can keep rotating guys in and we’re always going to have fresh guys playing sideline to sideline, playing through the whistle, and that’s what you can count on out of us.”