Offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan knows about injuries and setbacks.
The junior started the first six games as a redshirt freshman in 2010, then went down with injury.
Now the 6-foot-6, 290-pound lineman is slated to make his seventh career start Saturday at Northwestern, almost two years after his last one.
“It was a long time,” MacMillan said. “It was a tough wait. You’ve got to focus on each day, taking care of what you can.”
MacMillan earned freshman all-American honors for his half-season of work in 2010.
The hope was MacMillan would put his shoulder injury behind him and become a starter again last fall.
But a sports hernia in the spring lingered and he missed all of 2011.
“It’s been a bit of a long process,” MacMillan said. “You come to a place like this, you want to play. Playing early is great, but obviously I wasn’t able to stay healthy.”
On Saturday, MacMillan was put in the game when sophomore Brandon Scherff went down with a season-ending injury against Penn State.
“I think he did a good job,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He went in there. He was ready. He was mentally ready for it, and he’s practiced well.
“He’s missed some time but he’s practiced well when he’s been out there. Now hopefully we can keep him healthy and keep him advancing, because we’re going to need everybody’s best effort now.”
Iowa also lost sophomore Andrew Donnal on Saturday to a season-ending knee injury.
Fortunately, the player Donnal replaced because of injury earlier in the season — redshirt freshman Austin Blythe — was ready to get back in there.
“I wouldn’t want to be in that situation,” Blythe said. “Just being out 2 or 3 games, whatever it was, was enough for me. I can’t imagine what those guys are feeling right now.
“We’ll be there to pick them up, help them through it.”
MacMillan, unfortunately, does know exactly what Scherff and Donnal are going through right now. He’s done it twice.
“I definitely know what they are going through,,” MacMillan said. “Being away for a little bit, coming back is a little bit of frustration. You’re not going to be at the same place as you left. It takes a while to be back there.”
MacMillan said he is a lot different than that redshirt freshman that enjoyed a 5-1 record as a starter.
“I think I’m a lot more confident in the offense scheme and what I’m doing,” MacMillan said. “And I think I’m more physically mature.”
The junior from Toronto, Ontario, is not given to long-winded proclamations. But he’s sat in the offensive line meetings while hurt and lately even when he was passed up by younger players.
“He’s a tough guy,” junior lineman Brett Van Sloten said. “I think everyone on the team can contest to that. He’s a fighter.
“He’s persevered through a lot. It’s nice to see him progress through all those injuries.”
Iowa was fortunate to have two linemen with starting experience on the bench.
Now, with the injuries, depth is a serious concern. The next players in are junior Conor Boffeli, junior Drew Clark and redshirt freshman Jordan Walsh.
Ferentz said he did not plan to take the redshirt off of any true freshmen, even one as decorated as 6-5, 275, Ryan Ward, a high school all-American.
“We’d rather not dip into that pool if we can avoid it,” Ferentz said. “But he gives us some flexibility in practicing. The pool got a little shallow, so he’s moved up the charts.”
Blythe thinks this O-line can come together after managing just 20 rushing yards against Penn State.
“I think it’s definitely difficult to replace a guy like Brandon,” Blythe said. “It’s still the same group, still chemistry there.”
And he has plenty of confidence in MacMillan.
“He’s got the right mindset,” Blythe said. “Coming back for him is just like getting back on a bike. It’s just about getting the reps, getting the confidence back. He’ll be just fine.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football