Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini embracing expanded leadership role

The 23-year-old is the most experienced pass-catcher on the Hawkeyes’ roster. Ragaini amassed 26 receptions for 331 yards and a touchdown in 2021.

Jerod Ringwald

Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini hauls in a reception during a football game between Iowa and Colorado State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Rams 24-14.


Nico Ragaini has seen a number of veteran wide receivers leave the Iowa football program during his five-year tenure with the Hawkeyes.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith left Iowa City for the NFL after the 2020 season. When Iowa’s 2021 campaign ended, seniors Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones transferred to Purdue.

Ragaini is now the oldest wide receiver on the Hawkeyes’ active roster. The 23-year-old holds the title over junior Nolan Donald by about 21 months.

“I think I’m like the oldest guy by far in the room now,” Ragaini said at a June 23 media availability session. “Some of the guys coming in are like 17 or 18 years old. I’m 23 years old. So, I’m like five or six years older than some of these guys.

“I feel like I’m a lot older than these guys,” Ragaini added. “It’s cool, really. It’s more of, like, a mentor vibe, but still being friends with them… We run routes. They’re asking me questions and stuff like that, which is cool. I think it’s important. They all want to be good, so I’m enjoying the role.”

After the 2021 season, Ragaini expected to lead Iowa’s wide receiving corps alongside Jones. On May 25, however, reports surfaced about Jones entering the NCAA Transfer Portal. Jones’ move from Iowa to Purdue was confirmed June 3.

Iowa wide receiver Charlie Jones runs the ball down the field for a touchdown after a kick return during a football game between No. 17 Iowa and Illinois at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Illini 33-23 at the last home game of the season. (Grace Smith/The Daily Iowan) (Grace Smith)

“We were both like the two old guys on the team. So, he selfishly left me to be the only grandpa on the team,” Ragaini jokingly said of Jones. “I wish him the best of luck.”

Ragaini added that he and Jones are close friends. The pair often worked together outside of organized team practices, catching passes and pushing themselves to be better.

Ragaini said his relationship with Jones is still strong, even with the 2021 Big Ten Returner of the Year now in West Lafayette, Indiana.

“He told me right before he let everybody know,” Ragaini said of Jones’ decision to transfer to Purdue. “I just wished him luck. We talk all the time, so I just wish him the best. What’s in the past is in the past.

“You can’t sit here and cry,” Ragaini added. “You can’t make somebody who doesn’t want to be here, be here. That’s not beneficial for both of us. So, he thinks he’s better off there. I wish him the best of luck and it’ll be fun seeing him this year.”

Jones was listed as one of the top five options at wide receiver on the Hawkeyes’ spring practice depth chart. Ragaini was Iowa’s No. 2 wideout behind now-sophomore Keagan Johnson.

Ragaini might also be the Hawkeyes’ top punt and kick returner following Jones’ departure. In 2019, Ragaini averaged 10.7 yards per punt return and was named a first-team All-Big Ten Punt Return Specialist by Phil Steele.

Jones, who came to Iowa from Buffalo in 2019, supplanted Ragaini as Iowa’s top return man in 2020. Jones sat out all of the Hawkeyes’ 2019 campaign to comply with now-dated NCAA transfer rules.

Both Tracy and Jones will be eligible to play for Purdue in 2022, as the NCAA instituted a new rule in April 2021 that allows all its athletes to transfer once without penalty.

Ragaini’s Hawkeyes will take on Jones and Tracy’s Boilermakers on Nov. 5 at Ross-Ade Stadium. A start time for the contest has yet to be announced.