High School Football

Highland’s Sam LaPorta decides to become a Hawkeye

Sam LaPorta comes down with one of his four catches during the Highland Bulldogs’ win over Mattoon in the second round of the IHSA Class 5A state football playoffs Saturday.
Sam LaPorta comes down with one of his four catches during the Highland Bulldogs’ win over Mattoon in the second round of the IHSA Class 5A state football playoffs Saturday.

While on his official visit to the University of Iowa last weekend, Sam LaPorta had the chance to walk through the tunnel leading to the Hawkeyes home playing field at Kinnick Stadium.

A two-time all-state wide receiver at Highland High School, LaPorta decided he liked it well enough he’d like to do it repeatedly over the next four years.

With his parents, Joe and Staci LaPorta, along with several family members, teammates and Highland coaching staff looking on, the 6-4, 215-pound LaPorta ended weeks of speculation Wednesday when he signed a national letter of intent to attend the Big 10 Conference school.

“When I walked into the stadium? I couldn’t believe how close the fans are to the playing field. It’s crazy. It feels like you could throw a baseball lefthanded to the other side of the field,’’ LaPorta said, smiling. “With 70,000 people going crazy. I could just picture it all going through my mind.

“It came down to Iowa and Bowling Green. I really loved both schools and it was a tough decision. I actually made up my mind when I was coming home with my mom on Saturday. It kind of all laid out in front of me. It just made sense.’’

In LaPorta, the Hawkeyes are getting one of the top all-around athletes in the metro-east.

A three-year starter for coach Jim Warnecke’s Bulldogs, LaPorta hauled in 182 passes for more than 3,400 yards and 46 touchdowns as he helped lead the Bulldogs to three straight Mississippi Valley Conference championships. Highland was 23-2 the past two years, reaching the Class 4A semifinals last season and the Class 5A quarterfinals this past year.

Recruited as a tight end by the Iowa coaching staff, LaPorta said he spent considerable time during his visit to Iowa City last weekend with defensive lineman AJ Epenesa of Edwardsville and Iowa tight end TJ Hockensen.

Hockensen was recently awarded the Mackey Award, presented to the top collegiate tight end in the nation.

“They both told me that it was tough and that I was going to have to come in and work my tail off,’’ LaPorta said. “But they both told me that it doesn’t matter if you are a freshman or a senior, if you are the best player bat that position, you will be on the field. I would like to put myself in a position to play my freshman year. To do that I’m going to have to put on some weight, learn the system and just come in and work hard everyday.”

From his early days as a freshman, Warnecke knew LaPorta was special and have the opportunity to compete at the NCAA Division-I level.

“We felt that Sam had a chance to be the skilled position Division I football player in our program,’’ Warnecke said. “We saw his body type and fact that he would get bigger and stronger as time went on. We saw the desire and the work ethic.

“We’re just elated for the Sam. He’s the type of kid who does the right things in the right way and how well he represents his family, his team, his school and his community. How could you not be proud and elated for a kid like that.”

LaPorta said he plans to major in business at Iowa.

“”It really is a dream come true. I remember when I was really little and watching Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State ... Iowa,’’ LaPorta said. “To think that I am actually going to get a chance to play in the Big 10 Conference, that’s just crazy.’’

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