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A few clips from Iowa's Dec. 17 practice, which was open to the media for about 20 minutes, in advance of the Jan. 1 game in Tampa, Florida. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek and Kirk Ferentz were recently on a recruiting trip together in Colorado when the news popped up that Polasek was a top candidate for a head coach opening at North Dakota State.

Awkward moment between the second-year assistant and 20th-year head coach?

“All of a sudden it came across the ticker,” Polasek said. “I said, ‘Coach, I haven’t heard from anybody. Let’s just keep trucking along.’”

Shortly thereafter, North Dakota State — where Polasek was offensive coordinator before jumping to Iowa — promoted a coach from within, and that was that for talk of Polasek returning to Fargo.

The reality of coaching turnover nationwide, though, is the wheels of change are always turning. That’s why Polasek also said Monday, “I’m not on the job hunt. But if somebody calls, you take the phone call.”

Polasek’s name has been linked to possibly becoming the offensive coordinator at Kansas State, where his former boss at NDSU, Chris Klieman, was recently named head coach by former Iowa deputy athletics director Gene Taylor.

All rumors at this point, Polasek said.

“We’re real close friends. But I don’t think he’s gotten very far with any of that,” Polasek said of Klieman. “He’s focused on recruiting and trying to win another national championship (at NDSU). I have not heard from him.”

Given Polasek’s fiscal-year 2019 salary of $355,000 (before bonuses) and expected raise of roughly 10 percent, he’d likely earn between $400,000 and $450,000 next year if he stayed at Iowa. K-State’s previous offensive coordinator earned $440,000 in base pay.

So, a sales pitch (if any) from Kansas State would have to go beyond life-changing money for Polasek. In his two years in Iowa City, he's formed close bonds with a large group of young players that are just starting their college careers.

I’m sure Polasek hates reading about this. But he understands it's part of football's speculation season. And he was forthright and direct with his answers Monday.

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Could Alaric Jackson, Tristan Wirfs and Mark Kallenberger play together in 2019? And what about this Outback Bowl opponent on Jan. 1? Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Assuming he returns, Polasek will welcome back both starting tackles.

What a great starting point for Iowa’s 2019 offensive line.

Polasek said left tackle Alaric Jackson, who was named second-team all-Big Ten Conference, had not sought feedback from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee.

“He has not requested any information from the National Football League,” Polasek said, “and he is totally on board with being the best Hawkeye he can be right now.”

Jackson (6-foot-7, 320 pounds) turned out to be a better run blocker in 2018. True sophomore right tackle Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 328) was far more dominant in pass protection.

In one of his most humorous references Monday, Polasek said this about Wirfs: “We’re waiting for him to kind of rip open a Superman suit and run out there. I don’t think he’s quite pushed it through and become the dominant guy he really can (be) in the run game.”

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Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson's month has been spent receiving his Mackey Award and contemplating the NFL. Hear what he says about each: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Nate Stanley is definitely coming back to school.

Iowa’s starting quarterback had planned to get the NFL feedback, like several of his third-year teammates (namely T.J. Hockenson and Amani Hooker). But after a conversation with Ferentz and quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe, he changed his mind.

“Just decided to focus on what we had going on here,” Stanley said, “and not worry about that at all.”

One of the things Ferentz outlined with Stanley was the drop-off in guaranteed NFL money between first- and second-round picks. 

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With a big year, Stanley could work his way into the first-round conversation for the 2020 draft. NFL teams always seek that franchise quarterback.

“One, financially it wouldn’t make sense for me to leave early, and that was a big piece,” Stanley said. “Two, there’s a lot left to accomplish here. Just excited for another season. Just excited for this bowl prep right now.”

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Stanley wasn’t seriously an early departure. But this is certainly great news for the 2019 Hawkeyes — to return a captain and one of the team’s best players … at the sport’s most important position.

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Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley had a candid conversation with his coach about the NFL. Hear why he decided to pass on that opportunity for now: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Parker Hesse, the de facto team spokesman, likes what he’s seeing this month.

It’s easy for us on the outside to view December as bowl preparation at a relaxed pace. But for these student-athletes, there’s a heavy dose of strength training plus football practice plus preparing for final exams. And, in Hesse’s case, graduation.

He grabbed his diploma Friday.

The fifth-year senior’s take on what he’s seeing between the hustle and bustle, two weeks out from the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against No. 18 Mississippi State?

“Right now, our approach is really good. And I think our attitude is really good as a team,” Hesse said. “It’s not really a ‘have-to’ feel, which sometimes it can be in heavy-lifting periods like this. So far, since school’s been done we’ve been having a lot of fun.”

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Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland is initially asked about freshmen Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Nico Ragaini, who saw limited snaps in 2018. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Freshman Tyrone Tracy Jr. gets a free spin on Jan. 1.

And it sounds like coaches plan to use the freshman wide receiver, who can play in one more game without burning a year of eligibility. Receivers coach Kelton Copeland said there is no game plan yet (obviously), but Tracy is in the mix.

Tracy was one of Iowa's most intriguing newcomers after coaches raved about his dynamic athleticism.

“The hard part for us and me specifically as his position coach is: Who do I take off the field to put him on the field? Who do I take opportunities away from to put on the field?” Copeland said. “And that’s a good problem.”

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Remember how Jake Gervase said he would have 60 to 70 family and close friends in Tampa?

There’s an update.

“The official number is up to 85,” Iowa’s fifth-year senior free safety grinned.

His family’s annual Christmas celebration in Palm Harbor, Florida, blended nicely with Iowa’s Outback invitation. Gervase explained he was able to secure 42 tickets from teammates. His mom called the ticket office and worked it out so that all 85 could sit together in Raymond James Stadium.

Gervase's supporters will be easy to spot. The group has designed gold T-shirts with black lettering and his No. 30 on the back.

When Gervase arrives on game day, he may try to spot them from the field.

“I’m excited. It’ll be really cool,” he said. “Hopefully I make a big play at some point.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with the Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.

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