IOWA CITY — In learning how to play tight end at Iowa, T.J. Hockenson studied and watched the way Dallas Clark worked.
He watched the way he blocked, the way he ran routes, the way he competed.
“Coming into camp and getting a chance to talk with him, he’s been a great mentor to me,’’ Hockenson said. “There have been a lot of great tight ends come through here, but none have done it better than Dallas. He’s a great example to follow.’’
Hockenson followed him so well that Wednesday, he followed Clark as the only other Hawkeye to earn the John Mackey Award as the top tight end in college football.
Clark earned that honor in 2002, while Hockenson was selected Wednesday from a group of three finalists as the recipient of the 2018 Mackey Award. The Hawkeyes’ Noah Fant joined Hockenson among eight semifinalists for this year’s award.
“I knew Dallas’ legacy when I got here. He’s a great mentor to have, someone I think you can compare yourself to as you’re trying to develop,’’ Hockenson said. “He’s such a great player and it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with him.’’
Presented annually since 2000, the Mackey Award winner will be recognized in Atlanta Thursday night during the red carpet show that precedes the College Football Awards Night.
Hockenson is the first sophomore to win the award and the 6-foot-5, 250-pound native of Chariton was selected from a group of finalists that included sophomore Albert Okwuegbunam of Missouri and Kaden Smith of Stanford.
He earned the honor following what he has labeled on multiple occasions as a “surreal season.’’
Hockenson was named last week as the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year, earning first-team all-conference honors from a media panel and being selected to the second team behind Fant by conference coaches.
He was also named earlier this week as the winner of the Ozzie Newsome Award, presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus to its pick as the nation’s top tight end.
Hockenson earned that recognition after leading Iowa with 46 receptions covering 717 yards while helping the Hawkeyes to an 8-4 record this season.
Averaging 15.6 yards per reception, he caught six touchdown passes and scored a seventh on a run.
“This season, it feels like a video game,’’ Hockenson said Sunday. “I’m just trying to take in the moment.’’
Hockenson arrived at Iowa three years ago after playing wide receiver in high school, setting records with his 238 receptions covering 2,460 yards with 49 touchdown catches.
He’s added 25 pounds since joining the Hawkeyes and his development as a blocker to complement his receiving and athletic ability allowed him to move in front of Fant as Iowa’s first option at tight end this season.
Through two seasons, Hockenson has caught 70 passes for the Hawkeyes for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns.
His work includes a pair of 100-yard games this season, a 125-yard effort on three catches against Wisconsin and a four-catch, 107-yard performance at Indiana.
Hockenson will make a decision following Iowa’s Outback Bowl appearance whether he will join Fant in declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft or return for his junior season with the Hawkeyes.
It’s a decision he expects to base on feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board and his own gut feeling.
“To me, the challenge is the big thing. It’s not about the money, it’s about getting the chance to play on the biggest stage this game has to offer, the NFL, and seeing where you fit while competing against the best players on the planet,’’ Hockenson said.
“Am I ready for that? I don’t have that answer yet. It’s something I do plan to think about once the season is over and I’ll come to some sort of decision then and make the right call for me at the point in time.
“Right now, I’m still enjoying everything that has been happening, taking it all in. I appreciate it all. It’s been such a surreal season in so many ways.’’