Pair of Iowa cousins following family tradition with the Hawkeyes

Iowa tight ends -- and first cousins -- Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle celebrate a touchdown against Indiana on Nov. 7. Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports

If Iowa’s Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle, first cousins and pals since preschool, simply had emerged to form a dangerous tight-end duo in this their last year together, they would have felt overjoyed.

If they had remained in the shadows with the Hawkeyes but experienced a perfect regular season and a run to the doorstep of the College Football Playoff, Krieger Coble and Kittle would have celebrated just as heartily.

So with all of these circumstances converging, almost unthinkably, this fall, you can imagine their state of mind. It’s something just short of delirious.

“The fact that it’s all coming together,” Kittle said, “it’s like a dream come true.”

Iowa’s tight ends received no recognition this week on the All-Big Ten teams -- not even honorable mention -- but Krieger Coble, a senior, and the junior Kittle are plenty worthy of acclaim as the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes brace for No. 5 Michigan State on Saturday night at 8 in the Big Ten championship game.

They have combined to make 47 catches for 626 yards and seven touchdowns.

The leap to prominence has vaulted Krieger Coble, Kittle and their swarm of relatives into contention for status as the first family of Iowa athletics. Henry and George, in a sense during this magical season, are just living up to the Hawkeye legacy into which they were born.

The late V.E. “Bub” Krieger, born in 1919, and his wife, Lugene, raised 10 daughters on a farm near Mount Union, Iowa.

Jan, the seventh-oldest daughter and a former basketball star at Drake University, married Bruce Kittle, a co-captain and offensive lineman on Iowa’s 1982 Rose Bowl team. Jan and Bruce’s daughter, Emma Krieger Kittle, played volleyball at Iowa in 2009. Their son, George, received a scholarship offer from coach Kirk Ferentz on signing day in 2012.

Henry’s mother, Amy, the ninth-oldest daughter, played softball for the Hawkeyes.

It doesn’t stop there. Among the Krieger daughters’ 30 children -- Henry, George, their siblings and cousins -- are Jess Settles, the former Iowa basketball star, and Brad Carlson, Iowa baseball’s career home-run leader.

“Growing up,” George Kittle said, “it was kind of like you got to hang out with your favorite athletes.”

The younger cousins can say that now about Krieger Coble and Kittle.

Before this season, they had 13 total catches without a touchdown. Last year, Krieger Coble and Kittle caught four balls as Jake Duzey snagged 36 en route to second-team All-Big Ten honors at tight end.

But Duzey went down with a knee injury in spring practice, limiting him to minimal time and no receptions in eight games this year.

Enter the cousins. Among Krieger Coble’s 29 catches for 362 yards, 14 straight in Big Ten play went for first downs.

Ferentz said Krieger Coble “is playing as well as anybody we’ve had” at tight end. In 16 years, seven Iowa tight ends under Ferentz have been drafted into the NFL. Krieger Coble isn’t Dallas Clark, Ferentz said of the Hawkeyes’ premier former tight end, but the coach raves about his senior’s route-running and his ball skills.

“I don’t know how many tight ends in the conference or the country could be playing better,” Ferentz said.

Kittle has added some 30 pounds over the past three years to fit well at the position. His 18 catches for 264 yards include a team-high six touchdowns. Kittle scored the only touchdown at Wisconsin in a 10-6 Iowa win and found the end zone for decisive, second-half scores against Indiana and Purdue last month.

“I look at our tight ends as receivers,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “They’re that good. I can count on them to get open. They’ll make big plays.”

Krieger Coble said it’s nothing special.

“We’ve done a decent job of making plays when our numbers are called,” he said, “and that’s really all we try to do. We just want to give [Beathard] a spot to throw the ball.”

Iowa ranks no lower than third in the Big Ten in red-zone efficiency, goal-to-go efficiency and third-down conversion percentage. It has thrown three interceptions, fewer than every team nationally but Navy.

The tight ends factor heavily in the positive numbers.

“The combination of those two guys has been really good for us,” Ferentz said.

The combination worked for years before they got to Iowa. For much of Henry and George’s time in elementary school, their families live in Lockridge, Iowa, a small town about 60 miles south of Iowa City.

Together, they played sports and watched the Hawkeyes.

“That’s how it’s been my whole life,” Krieger Coble said. “I’ve known nothing different.”

Kittle said he looked up to his cousin, who is 16 months older. Beyond the age difference, Henry was “a freak-of-nature athlete,” according to George.

The first call to George on signing day 2012 after Ferentz came from his cousin at Iowa. They lived together that summer before Kittle’s freshman year.

“I’ve tried to be as good of a role model as possible,” Krieger Coble said, “but he’s doing a heck of a job himself."

Kittle described the opportunity to play with Krieger Coble as a “dream.”

“It’s special, because he’s my family,” Kittle said. “Being able to share this experience with him in his senior year, there’s not really an adjective to describe it.”

They’re enjoying every minute, Krieger Coble said.

“We really haven’t had time to think about all that’s happened this year,” he said. “I think we’ll look back on it in the future and enjoy it a lot more.”

Many of the Krieger daughters and their children, like Henry, use the Krieger name. It’s a way to honor their father and grandfather, who did not have a son to carry on the family name.

George Kittle, in fact, wore Krieger Kittle on his jersey as a freshman. He shortened it to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bruce, who took a Kittle jersey all the way to the Rose Bowl 34 years ago.

The younger Kittle could do the same -- or with a little help from his cousin on Saturday, perhaps a step better.