In a near perfect world, John Wienke would’ve led Michigan to two or three Big Ten titles by now as a star quarterback for Lloyd Carr.
Wienke would’ve been the most celebrated left-handed quarterback to play for the Wolverines since Rick Leach thrilled the maize and blue fans in the 1970s.
He would’ve been the big man at the Big House.
That’s probably how Wienke envisioned it when he committed to Michigan the summer before his senior year of high school in 2007.
But then life and all its imperfections and obstacles got in the way, now five years later Wienke is the new pooch punter for the Iowa football team. He might be the only punter in the history of the Iowa program who once was committed to Michigan as a quarterback.
Wienke also might come across as a failure because he hasn’t achieved much as a quarterback if you don’t count his full-ride athletic scholarship to a BCS school. The best chance he has of playing Iowa State on Saturday besides being the holder on extra-point kicks will be if Iowa wants to pin the Cyclones deep in their own territory with a pooch punt.
That strategy worked to perfection late in the fourth quarter against Northern Illinois on Saturday as Wienke buried the Huskies deep in their own territory. The shift in field position helped set up Iowa’s game-winning touchdown and marked the first time that Wienke had noticeably impacted a game on the field in college.
Wienke was asked Tuesday if he considered it a reward for his perseverance and unselfishness.
“I don’t know if it’s so much of a reward as it is they’ve asked something of me and I’m trying to do that to the best of my ability,” Wienke said. “You can say I haven’t played that much at quarterback. That’s fine, whatever.
“I’m just trying to find something that I can do to help out this team and kind of be in the realm of things and just be a good member of the team.”
Normally, that’s easier said than done because just look at all the college players, especially quarterbacks, who transfer at the first sign of trouble.
It takes an ego to play quarterback and Wienke surely has one, but not at the expense of his integrity. His college career hasn’t gone as he had hoped, but Wienke still hasn’t gone away.
That speaks volumes about Wienke, about Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and about the camaraderie within the Iowa program.
“That’s the family atmosphere we have here,” said senior center James Ferentz, who is Kirk’s son. “You hear that term thrown around pretty loosely in recruiting that we’re a family atmosphere. But John is a perfect example of that, a guy who feels like he’s a part of the team even when he wasn’t playing. And then the coaches were able to put him in a position to play where he could contribute. And then Saturday, he came out and probably had the play of the game for us.”
A lot of quarterbacks would’ve bolted after losing the starting position to a fellow classmate. Wienke not only stayed at Iowa, he built a close relationship with James Vandenberg, the person who beat him out for the starting quarterback position.
“We’re the best of friends,” Wienke said. “We hang out a lot. There is no hot seat there or anything like that. We’ve been good friends since our freshmen year, and we’ve never really let anything get in the way of anything.”
Wienke epitomizes what college football is supposed to be about. He is fully invested in the team-first mentality, even with somebody else leading the team from behind center.
“That’s just the kind of guy he is,” James Ferentz said. “He’s a great person and a great human being. A lot of quarterbacks I know when they realize that they’re not going to play they either go to a different school or they just exit football completely.
“But being a part of this team is really important to John and he’s made that clear not only with what he’s done on the field but off the field.”
Wienke could’ve easily transferred to a smaller school and been the big man on campus, but he didn’t need that in order to feel happy and fulfilled.
“I can remember talking to coach Ferentz and some of the other coaches a while back; just one of my big things was I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Wienke said. “My fiancé lives here now. I love the coaches. And I love the family that is kind of built around here.
“I’ve got life-long friends here. I never really even thought much about transferring or anything. It hasn’t really crossed my mind. I don’t know, I guess I just like the family around here.”
The possibility of Wienke transferring did cross the minds of others, though.
“Of course, I’ve had friends and family say stuff like, ‘Would you ever consider transferring?’” Wienke said. “But I didn’t really want to have to mess with it, partly because I didn’t want to have to start everything over.
“But most of all, I just felt like I had built good friends and family around here. And I didn’t really want to pass that up.”
Wienke severed ties with Michigan after Carr retired as coach after the 2007. Wienke’s style as a quarterback fit better in Iowa’s pro-style offense than it did with the offense used by Carr’s replacement, Rich Rodriguez, who was fired at Michigan after three seasons as coach.
Wienke and Vandenberg were in the same recruiting class and for a while they were even on the depth chart. Vandenberg eventually gained an edge and has never looked back.
Wienke also hasn’t looked back because he’s too busy living in the moment and preparing for the future as a fifth-year senior.
“Like coach Ferentz says, right now we’re building our character for the future and the types of fathers and husbands that we’ll be,” Wienke said. “I’d like to think I’m learning something from this and that’s what I take from it. What that is, that should be determined by the future. I’m sure I’ll look back on my college days and find something very important that I’ve gotten from this.”
I’m sure he will, too.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football