Perhaps no player on the Iowa football team understands how De’Andre Johnson feels right now more than Iowa center James Ferentz.
Their situations are unrelated and involve different legal issues at different times, but both cases still are about letting down people who’ve invested in you.
And although it’s still to be determined how Johnson will handle his adversity, which includes being charged with evading just two days after being cited for having a disorderly house, James Ferentz already has met the crossroads in his life and now it’s obvious he chose the right path to follow.
James Ferentz not only ranks among the top centers in the Big Ten heading into his senior season, he’s come a long way off the field, too.
James is quick to say that he’s far from perfect. But he’s also proud to say that he isn’t the same teenage kid who stumbled out of the block at Iowa.
James had two alcohol-related offenses on his record before ever playing in a game for the Hawkeyes. He was suspended from spring practice in 2009.
His troubles were magnified by the fact that James is the son of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz.
James also got into trouble at a time when the Iowa program was dealing with a prolonged stretch of player wrongdoing.
In other words, his timing couldn’t have been worse for his father’s sake.
“I really let him down as a father,” James said Friday while representing Iowa at Big Ten media days in Chicago. “And then I really let him down as a player. You never want to disappoint your coach. It really just hurt. I let the staff down. I let my teammates down.
“I really didn’t understand how unselfish I was being at the time. Now looking back at it, I’m still embarrassed about it. But it’s just part of who I am now, and I need to keep building forward and try to leave my mark in a more positive way.”
The fact that James Ferentz was one of three seniors to represent Iowa at Big Ten media days is a testimony to his rise as a person and a player.
Nobody will ever replace Kirk Ferentz’s five children, but somebody very easily could’ve replaced James Ferentz the football player in Chicago.
James went to Chicago because he earned the right to be there with his play on the field and his more recent behavior off it.
Kids make mistakes. It’s part of the growing process. Sometimes, you have to do something wrong to learn what’s right.
“I personally think I’ve grown up a lot,” James said. “I have no one to blame but myself for those things. I think I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot.
“I, obviously, still have a long ways to go. But I think I’ve been able to take those negative experiences and turn them around and help shape my career in a positive light.”
His father thinks so, too.
“His story is a bit more public than a lot of guys, but that’s kind of what college is about, certainly college athletics,” Kirk Ferentz said. “There is probably a little bit more drama around his missteps than maybe the average guy on the team.
“But he knew that when he signed on. And I think it’s made him a better person. And that’s really to me part of this process.”
James is the second oldest of Kirk’s three sons and all three sons now are associated with the Iowa program.
Brian Ferentz is the oldest and a former Iowa offensive lineman, who now coaches that position for his father. That means Brian also coaches James on a daily basis.
Steve Ferentz is the youngest brother and will join his father’s team as a walk-on freshman tight end this season.
“It’s been a blast having us all in the one building,” James said. “I know my mom really enjoys that. Steve is hands down the smartest one of all of us. I think we get better as a football team with him around.
“I think Steve is a lot more polished than Brian and I were coming out of high (school).”
James is very close to his younger brother and wants to make sure that Steve understands the unique circumstance.
“When your last name is Ferentz in Iowa City, you’re going to be treated a little differently,” James Ferentz said. “That’s just something you need to learn to accept. I told Steve the same thing. I said, whether you think it’s fair, right, wrong, it doesn’t matter; this is where you’re at and this is the way it is.
“So you need to be extremely careful in your decisions. You need to be conscious of who’d you be letting down if you made a mistake.”
James is similar to his father in how they both thrive on underestimating themselves, at least on the surface. It’s almost as if being self-deprecating is a family trait.
James seems more comfortable talking about his weaknesses than his strengths.
He doesn’t mind saying that his father was the only BCS coach to offer him a scholarship.
He doesn’t mind joking about being shorter than most BCS centers.
And he doesn’t mind rehashing his checkered past because it’s part of his story.
“A high percentage of our population is going to make mistakes (whether that’s) academically, socially, whatever, and it’s our job to try and help guys grow,” Kirk Ferentz said. “He got a lot of good assistance when he went through a tough period from a lot of people on campus. But ultimately, he’s done the right thing to move forward. And that’s what you hope to see with every player.”
Moving forward on the field wasn’t as complicated for James because he had the physical tools to get the job done outside of barely being 6-feet tall.
He and Brian had scholarships coming out of City High. Brian also distinguished himself as an offensive lineman at Iowa.
James, however, is at a different level than his brother according to their father, who knows something about offensive linemen.
Neither James nor Brian drew much attention on the recruiting trail, which in James’ case surprised his father.
“It was kind of strange,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I just assumed everyone thought (James) was going to Iowa because he was a better high school player. And I say it with a due respect to Brian, but James was a better player in high school. And Brian would tell you that. (James) was really kind of a no-brainer, other than he is not tall. Brian’s not delusional on that. He’s delusional on some things, but not that one.
“Brian was a good player and had a really good career with us, really a good career. But James is just at a little different level. He just has a little different tempo about himself. James has high tempo out there on the field. I wasn’t really worried about him.”
James and his father were seated at tables next to each other in a giant ballroom at media day Friday. Nobody could recall another father-son combo to attend the event.
Hearing that drew a smile from James.
“It’s really a unique experience when you sit back and look at it,” James said. “You just kind of enjoy it as much as you can. It makes up for lost time with my dad. Obviously, growing up he wasn’t around as most fathers were, but I’m very thankful for the life I’ve had.”
James also is very thankful that his father stuck with him and gave him another chance to redeem himself.
“That’s something I’ve always admired in my dad,” James said. “He believes in second chances. And I think he does a great job of understanding that kids are kids. When you’re 18 years old and you’re out of the nest for the first time, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s just a natural part of the process.
“He’s just so level headed. I think he’s just done a great job of allowing guys to grow up and find their own path.”
James Ferentz clearly has found the right path.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football