If a typical Buffalo Bills fan was asked which college is most represented on the team’s roster, many of them would likely guess one of the big SEC schools, such as LSU or Alabama. However, how many would know the correct answer is the University of Iowa? The Hawkeyes are represented on the team by veteran safety Micah Hyde, newly drafted defensive end A.J. Epenesa, along with offensive lineman Ike Boettger and depth wide receiver Nick Easley. Clearly, head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane see something attractive in the Hawkeyes’ program when it comes to draft prospects.
There’s no doubt, because McDermott has said as much to at least one reporter. Back during the season, the Bills head coach revealed to ESPN’s Marcel Louis-Jacques that “I always love guys from Iowa because of the culture they come from” and that was a contributing factor in his interest in Micah Hyde back in 2017.
McDermott added to those comments following the 2020 NFL Draft:
“I’ve never spent a day with Iowa football,” said McDermott. “My mom is from Iowa and I was born in Nebraska, so I’ve got some really close ties out there to those programs. But overall, I feel like their culture is known. To your point, it’s admirable the way that they’ve built that culture. Coach Ferentz. I’ve coached players that have come from that culture. The minute we drafted A.J., I immediately got a couple of texts from players that I’ve coached that went to Iowa that know him or know of him or know of his family. It seems like there’s a lot of parallels between their culture and our culture here. Not intentionally so, but I do have a lot of respect for what they’ve been able to do out there over the course of time and sustain it.”
An organization that rarely attracts five-star recruits—outside of Epenesa himself—Iowa is instead famous for their emphasis on fundamentals and player development. In this year’s draft class, the team turned two- and three-star recruits like Geno Stone, Michael Ojemudia and Nate Stanley into NFL Draft picks. Even first-round tackle Tristan Wirfs was only a four-star recruit coming out of high school. The Hawkeyes turned him into the 13th overall pick.
Former Bills general manager Bill Polian summed it up pretty well when speaking to The Athletic before the draft:
“When you get a player from Iowa, no matter what the skill level, you know he’s completely ready for the NFL,” Polian told The Athletic. “He knows how to work. He knows how to study. He’s disciplined. He knows how to conduct himself as a professional.”
That type of pedigree will come in handy as the Bills look to rely on their four Hawkeyes during the 2020 season.