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Local Sports

Newton’s Nick Easley caps his Iowa football career in style

Easley Does It

Football is what he wanted to play since flag football as a third-grader in Newton. Nick Easley’s journey to not just play NCAA Division I football but to play for his team — the Iowa Hawkeyes — started in his hometown, made a detour to Council Bluffs then to Iowa City.

After setting receiving records for Newton High School, Easley went to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. The first year as a receiver for the Reivers left him questioning himself.

“I thought maybe I don’t want to do this anymore but I didn’t want to quit on myself. I love to play football so I worked harder,” Easley said.

Easley’s work paid off as the top receiver in the community college football ranks nationwide. He accepted a preferred walk-on offer to Iowa State then came a call from Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Easley changed course and went to Iowa as a preferred walk-on. Easley’s dream was there before his eyes.

All eyes were on Easley as he dashed down the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on New Year’s Day 2018. Even his own were on him.

“I’ve always heard NFL players talk about watching themselves on the big Jumbotron screens during a play. I was watching myself run down the field and I could keep track of where the guy was coming from behind me,” Easley said of his second-quarter, 75-yard touchdown reception in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Mississippi State.

That was Easley’s eighth touchdown of his two-year career at Iowa and the longest pass play in bowl game in Iowa history. It allowed the Hawkeyes to gain a 10-6 lead in the second quarter.

A funny thing happened on the way to the end zone on the play — Easley had to make two tugs on his helmet so it wouldn’t come off during the play.

“It was the first play of the drive. When I went to tighten my helmet, I realized one of my straps was broken but it was too late to do anything about it,” he said.

“I got open quickly and knew the ball would be on me. I turned and it was right there. It was a good ball by Nate as he recognized it and threw it to me.

“My helmet slipped up a bit while I was running. I knew I couldn’t let my helmet fly off because they’d blow the play dead. I pulled it down, ran for a little more and pulled it down again.”

Easley caught two touchdowns to help the Hawkeyes defeat No. 18 Mississippi State, 27-22. The 5-foot-11 inch, 205-pound senior caught eight passes for a career high 104 yards in the Hawkeyes’ bowl victory.

His 100th career reception as a Hawkeye came in the third quarter on an 8-yard TD pass from sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley. It put Iowa up 24-19.

For his performance in the game, Easley was named most valuable player of the 33rd Annual Outback Bowl.

“On the second touchdown, it was a run-pass option where Nate could hand it off or throw it out to me on the perimeter. I knew to get in the end zone I’d need two blocks because we were 3-on-3 out there,” Easley said.

He got the two blocks from senior Kyle Groeneweg and sophomore Brandon Smith, both receivers. Easley said Groenewg put his guy on the ground and Smith blocked his guy into the end zone.

“I just had to run past my defender and Brandon’s block got me to the corner. I was able to dive and hit the pylon,” Easley said.

“I never thought of the MVP award. My goals are always about going out and doing my best to help the team,” he said. “I knew if we won we gotteam trophy. The whole experience at the Outback Bowl was awesome and to go out there one more time with my teammates, play and win the game was a tremendous way to end our senior season.”

Only for that rare moment at the end of his freshman season at Iowa Western, did Easley think his dream could be coming to an end.

“I believed in myself which is the best asset you can have,” he said. “I had the support of my family. I couldn’t have done this without them It’s cool to know your family supports you no matter what — good game or bad game — my parents and my brother have been there for me. I’m so glad they’ve been a part of it.”

He is the son of Allison Lemke and John Easley. His brother Matt was a standout football player for Newton as well and went on to be a kicker at the Northern Iowa.

Easley began playing flag football when he was in third grade in Newton. He said his class was the first fifth-grade team in the Newton YFS.

His love of the sport grew as he progressed through middle school and high school in Newton. Easley set receiving records at NHS and he was a punter and placekicker.

“I could have gone to Missouri Western or an NAIA school out of high school but Iowa Western seemed to present the best opportunity to be a receiver,” Easley said.

It was and that decision got him to Iowa, where he earned a scholarship for his work as a junior.

Now what? The football journey continues.

“I’m training for Pro Day and in the process of hiring an agent. Hopefully, I’ll get a shot at the NFL,” Easley said.

Easley has one more semester of college to earn his degree in sports and recreation management. He said he is looking into going into medical sales after talking to several former Hawkeye players in the profession.

“But, I’m going to put myself in a position to go to the NFL. I want to keep playing football as long as I can. A lot of Iowa guys made it as undrafted free agents. We’ll see where it goes,” Easley said.

Easley finished his senior season at Iowa with 52 receptions for 494 yards and five touchdowns. His 75-yard touchdown reception in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 was his longest TD march of the season.

Easley received the Brett Greenwood Award “for a walk-on student-athlete who embodies the core values and behaviors of former Hawkeye walk-in Brett Greenwood through their persistence, determination, commitment, preparation and actions.”

In 2017, Easley walked on at Iowa, worked hard in the offseason and earned a starting receiver spot. He led the team in receiving as junior and received the offensive Team Hustle Award.

In his two years as a Hawkeye receiver, Easley had 103 catches for 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns. He rushed for 18 yards on four carries — two carries per season.

Easley’s decisions to “bet on himself” have worked out well. He went to Iowa Western where as a sophomore he became the go-to receiver.

Easley was named to the 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association’s All-America Football First-Team offense. Easley’s 72 receptions were No. 1 in the NJCAA this season. His 954 yards were fifth in the NJCAA. Easley’s 954 yards puts in second on the IWCC Reiver’s single-season total list.

“The best bet you can every make is on yourself and that’s what I have done,” Easley said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of the Iowa football program and play for Coach Ferentz. With him, what you see is what you get. He is a genuine guy who cares for everyone in that building and in the program from the people who serve us the food, to the best players on the team, the coaching staff and all those involved.”

Easley said Ferentz gives anyone from a walk-on to a five-star recruit the opportunity to earn a spot on the Hawkeye team.

“If you can play, you’ll play for Coach Ferentz. He truly believes competition breeds excellence. I couldn’t turn down his offer to walk-on,” he said.

It was not all great times as being a college student-athlete is hard work. Easley has had to deal with several injuries — broken ribs and a collapsed lung at the end of the 2017 regular season and a couple of nagging ones during the 2018 season.

“Injuries are part of the sport. When you play Division I football in a real physical Big Ten Conference, especially when you’re not the biggest due like me, you’re getting hit and injuries come along with it,” Easley said.

“You learn how to handle them. I got better at playing with a little discomfort. They monitor you all the time so you’re not playing when you shouldn’t be out there.”

He said he didn’t think people realize how much work goes into playing a college sport. For him as an Iowa football player, there have been hours in the classroom, studying film, going to meetings and additional film studying outside the meetings, and treatments to get your body right to play on Saturday.

“On top of that, you’re a full-time student going to classes,” he said.

As a newcomer as a junior, Easley found himself being taken under the wing of then-senior receiver Matt VandeBerg. He said VandeBerg helped him know how to handle himself and to work.

“I stepped up in a leadership role this season. Iowa’s receiver group is pretty young and being a senior, I was helping the younger players learn the right things to do on and off the field,” Easley said. “My first and foremost goal this season was to be the best leader I could be and help our receiver group be the best Iowa has had in a few years. I think we did that.”

Easley was elected to the Hawkeye team Leadership Council. He said the seniors met with Coach Ferentz each week to discuss any issues on the team.

“Coach Ferentz listens to our input. He values what we have to say,” Easley said. “I couldn’t have made a better decision than to come a be a part of this program.”

Easley said the biggest thing he has learned at Iowa was about life. He said the life lessons he has learned has helped shape how he thinks about things.

“To understand the process no matter what field you’re in — football or a job — value working hard and continually doing the right thing. Each little right decision adds up over time.”

For Easley the most memorable regular-season game was Senior Day, Nov. 23, at Kinnick Stadium. He was introduced with all the other Hawkeye seniors and had his parents on the field with him before the game.

“One last time at Kinnick with my teammates was awesome. It wasn’t one of our best played games, but we beat Nebraska and got the trophy,” Easley said. “That was pretty special.”

Easley has come back worked with Newton youth when he has the time. He wants give back to his community and encourage the youth to pursue their dreams.

“No matter what you do, whether its sports, school or working in a job, you never know when you’re break through moment is going to come,” he said. “If you give up you’ll never find out. Keep working and it will come.

“I also want to thank everyone in the Newton community for all the support throughout my career. I couldn’t be more proud to be from Newton and to represent this town.”

Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535 or jsheets@newtondailynews.com

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