IOWA CITY, Iowa - During Tuesday's media availability with Iowa student-athletes, cornerback Riley Moss looked over at teammate John Waggoner. The latter's transformation hit him.
"He's gotten huge during his career here at Iowa," Moss said was asked about his fellow Central Iowan.
They arrived in Iowa City together as members of the 2018 recruiting class, Moss from Ankeny Centennial and Waggoner from Central Iowa Metro League rival West Des Moines Dowling Catholic. Injuries and learning quickly led to Moss seeing the field as a true freshman. Meanwhile, Waggoner developed on the more physically demanding defensive line.
Moss comes into Saturday's season opener against Indiana (2:30 p.m. CT, BTN) with 14 starts under his belt. Waggoner is projected to start his first game at defensive end.
The 6-foot-5 Waggoner checks in at 266 pounds now, 21 pounds heavier than when he arrived on campus. His combination of strength and athleticism makes him an intriguing player off the edge. With returning all-Big Ten selection Zach VanValkenburg drawing attention at the opposite end, Waggoner should see a single blocker on his side most snaps, at least early on.
"His speed and knowledge of the game stand out," Moss said. "It's all coming together for him right now. You'll be able to see it on the field, for sure. We see it in practice. It's really cool to see him grow."
Waggoner has received game reps on a limited basis the last two seasons. He delivered a sack against Purdue as a redshirt freshman. He produced a quarterback pressure in a big win against Wisconsin last season.
Part of his limited playing time the last two years came from needing more develop time. Part of it was playing behind guys like Anthony Nelson, AJ Epenesa and Chauncey Golston, all guys currently on NFL rosters.
He's approached his time at Iowa deliberately.
"I just take one thing each day, write it down and try to improve on one fundamental each day, especially in spring ball, fall camp," Waggoner said. "I know that's what a lot of guys that came before me did. So just take one thing, try to drill it hard that day, focus on it and then look at the film to see if I improved. If I didn't, keep focusing on that. Otherwise, move on to another fundamental."
He writes down notes from practices and while watching film. He refers to them from time to time to see where he's at and how he's improved.
Waggoner also applies himself in the classroom. He's a two-time academic all-Big Ten pick and last year was recognized as a distinguished scholar in the league.
That dedication to details helps student-athletes reach their potential, even if they're a high school four-star prospect like Waggoner, who held scholarship offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State and others. Guys develop at different rates and sometimes their path to playing time is blocked by talented veterans.
"He's a good guy other than him going to Dowling when I was at Centennial," Moss joked. "But, no, he's a good dude and from a great family, too."
Waggoner waited his turn and his chance to run out of the Kinnick Stadium tunnel as a starter comes Saturday. At least a part of him will be thinking about the road to get there.
"It feels good and Saturday is going to be a pretty surreal. I just have to stay grounded and focus on doing my job and getting a lot of guys to the football," Waggoner said.