Senior center James Ferentz never would say it, nor would his father, and probably not his older brother.
So I’ll say it.
James Ferentz has been without question the most valuable player on the Iowa football team this season.
He’s been the calm within the storm, but there is nothing calm about the way James Ferentz plays football.
His ruggedness at center has been one of the few bright spots in a season that’s in danger of unraveling with Iowa (4-5) carrying a three-game losing streak into Saturday’s matchup against Purdue.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve watch James get his pads on a much bigger defensive lineman and then pound him into submission. James is constantly attacking his opponent, within the rules, of course, but with a nasty approach. He compensates for his lack of size by being fundamentally sound and relentless.
The football field is one of the few places where you can be nasty and physical and be praised for it.
It’s also where players sweat and bleed together while forming a bond.
The 2012 Iowa football team is deficient in many ways, but not when it comes to being unified. James Ferentz deserves part of the credit for that for being a team-first guy.
Reporters, including myself, tried Tuesday to get James to talk about his stellar play this season, but he would have nothing to do with it.
James didn’t hesitate to answer when asked if he was pleased with his play this season, but only because it was a chance to criticize himself.
“No. Anytime you’re losing games, you can’t be happy,” he said. “You always have to do more and that’s what it’s going to come down to this week, finding more time to get into the film room and spending maybe a couple more minutes after practice.
“Whenever you’re losing, you can’t be satisfied. The same goes when you’re winning as well. You can’t get complacent. You’ve always got to be pressing forward and trying to improve.”
Hearing James talk reminds you that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. He is so much like his father, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, in terms of being humble, self-deprecating and focused that it’s almost creepy.
Iowa could be 9-0 right now and rushing for 300 yards per game, but James still wouldn’t be satisfied. He plays the game as if he’s on a never-ending quest for perfection.
“You always have to have the critical eye,” James said. “If you’re not your biggest critic, I think you run the risk of becoming complacent and becoming a worse football player.”
James grew up with that mentality because he grew up admiring and respecting his older brother, Brian Ferentz, and that’s how Brian has always felt.
Brian now preaches to his players as the Iowa offensive line coach to never be satisfied.
“That’s kind of the mentality my brother Brian has brought to the offensive line room,” James said.
“Every snap, whether it’s individual drills or team work, you need to be looking at yourself critically and saying what can you do more and how can you improve?”
In this case, though, the pupil is better than the teacher. No disrespect to Brian Ferentz, who also was an offensive lineman at Iowa, but James plays at a higher level.
Kirk Ferentz has acknowledged publicly that James is the better of two.
Kirk also praised James publicly last week, but only because he asked to by a reporter. Kirk Ferentz knew coming into season that center was a position he didn’t have to worry about.
“He’s playing well,” Kirk Ferentz said of James. “I was expecting that. I would be really disappointed if he wasn’t.”
It’s been 15 years since you could argue that Iowa’s best player was an Iowa City native. Tim Dwight held that distinction in 1997 as an electrifying receiver and return specialist, and now his fellow City High graduate James Ferentz is carrying the torch, albeit in a much different fashion as a grind-it-out center.
James Ferentz got off to a rocky start at Iowa by being charged twice with alcohol-related offenses barely one year into his career.
He embarrassed himself, his family and the team with his behavior.
But he persevered and grew from a naïve teenager into a responsible young man. He also grew into one heck of a football player, even though, he’d never admit it.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football