Most people would take offense to being called nasty because by definition it means disgustingly dirty, mean and indecent.
But for a football player, being called nasty means you’ve earned respect by how you conduct yourself on the field. It doesn’t mean that you’re a dirty player, but rather a fearless and rugged player who refuses to back down from anybody or any challenge.
Members of the Iowa offensive line, juniors Riley Reiff and James Ferentz, in particular, embrace the word.
“It makes me smile a little bit,” Reiff said Tuesday when told that nasty is a word that’s been used to describe him as a player. “I love it. That’s the way every offensive line hopes they are.
“You want to play tough. You don’t want to play dirty. But nasty, that’s a pretty good word. I like that.”
In football terms, describing a player as nasty is another way of saying he’s tough, the kind of guy you want on your side in a fight or walking through a dark alley.
It’s the kind of guy who pushes back harder after being pushed first.
It’s the kind of guy who occasionally has to be warned to stop when you hear the whistle.
And it’s the kind of guy who loves asserting his will at the expense of his opponent.
“That’s a compliment for any offensive lineman playing anywhere,” Ferentz said of being called nasty. “Whether we are or not, I can’t vouch for that.”
Ferentz believes that being nasty means being relentless in your approach to each play, to each block.
“A nasty offensive lineman is someone that just plays hard through the whistle and really wants to make sure that the other guy knows he’s there,” Ferentz said.
The officials sometimes notice, too.
“There is nothing wrong with playing a little past the whistle, get a few warnings,” said Reiff, who also was star wrestler in high school in South Dakota. “But after that you might have to calm down a little bit.”
You notice Reiff said, might have to calm down a little bit.
Being calm has its place, but not always on a football field.
Life in the trenches can be nasty, so it’s necessary to have the right people leading the way.
It’s easy to point out all the concerns about the 2011 Iowa team, from having to replace the starting quarterback, three starters on the defensive line and both starting safeties to how poorly the team played in November last season.
But give me an Iowa team with an experienced offensive line that has a reputation for being nasty, and a running back who moves the chains, as is the case with 230-pound sophomore-to-be Marcus Coker, and I like my chances for success.
Reiff, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound left tackle, is well on his way to becoming Iowa’s next great offensive lineman, if he isn’t there already after starting 24 games over the past two seasons and earning all-Big Ten honors as a sophomore.
He isn’t much for trash talking on the field because Reiff says he isn’t quick-witted enough to think of clever things to say in the heat of battle.
So instead Reiff just plays with a nasty disposition and at a higher level than most of his opponents.
Ferentz is no slouch, either, as an undersized 6-2, 275-pound center.
He’ll always standout as the son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and as the younger brother of former Iowa center Brian Ferentz, but now James stands out more for his play on the field.
He and Reiff and senior-to-be right tackle Markus Zusevics give Iowa a solid nucleus to build around up front.
“I’ll do my part, but we’ve got a lot of guys,” Reiff said. “They know what it takes. They know what has to be done. They’re ready to go. You’re just trying to carry on the tradition.”
If Reiff has his way this fall, Iowa will be the kind of team that mounts long, methodical scoring drives that rely heavily on the run.
“As an offensive lineman you like keeping the ball on the ground, just moving your opponent and just wearing them out mentally and physically,” Reiff said. “That’s old-style football, but it works. And that’s how we play around here. It’s pretty fun.”
Nobody benefits more from having nasty offensive linemen than the quarterback they’re trying to protect.
In Iowa’s case, that’s junior-to-be James Vandenberg.
“They are very intense on the field,” Vandenberg said of Reiff and Ferentz. “They don’t take stuff from anybody. They’re not afraid of anybody.
“They’re exactly the guys you want up there in front of you.”
That’s Vandenberg’s way of saying they’re nasty in a good way.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football