IOWA CITY — They once basked in the glow of an Orange Bowl.
They remember when Iowa’s football team was ranked among the nation’s elite, a Hawkeye appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and coach Kirk Ferentz was in everybody’s top five.
They are the Hawkeye seniors of 2013.
“Whether you’re an upperclassman or not, I think everyone is kind of striving to go out on a high note,” offensive lineman Conor Boffeli said. “Maybe moreso the seniors, but I think everyone is trying to do a lot better than we did last year.”
That quest begins Saturday, when Iowa hosts Northern Illinois in a 2:30 p.m. opener.
For most of the Hawkeye roster, it’s a chance to distance themselves from a 4-8 finish in 2012. Boffeli, however, is among six players who were redshirt freshmen in 2009, giving them an insider’s view of an improbable run to the Bowl Championship Series.
Now, they are the final link to those halcyon days.
“It was definitely a lot of fun,” Boffeli said. “A lot of hard work, but the reward of going to Miami was a great experience for me. It’s just something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Eight current Hawkeye seniors who were being recruited that fall played as true freshmen in 2010. They joined a program fresh off an 11-2 season and a No. 7 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
It’s been a steady dip from 8-5 in 2010 to 7-6 in 2011.
Christian Kirksey, a fourth-year linebacker from St. Louis, has made reversing the trend a priority.
“We want to be a part of the great Iowa legacy,” Kirksey said. “When you walk through the doors, you can see the great players who played before us.
“We just want to make them proud and make the program proud, keep it going.”
The last time Iowa endured back-to-back losing seasons was 1999 and 2000.
Since Ferentz’s arrival in 1999, no graduating class has celebrated fewer than 22 wins. The current group has contributed to 19 victories.
“We’ve got a lot of hungry seniors,” right tackle Brett Van Sloten said. “But at the same time, we need to pass it on and get a hungry team.”
Can the experiences of 2009 fuel a revival?
“I think that was a great opportunity to see those guys on the highest of highs,” defensive end Dominic Alvis said of the Orange Bowl team. “That’s definitely a motivator.”
The seniors of 2009 were mired in mediocrity early in their careers, with Iowa going a combined 12-13 their first two years on campus. They also benefitted from a little good fortune during their breakout campaign.
What would have happened if Iowa failed to block two field goals against Northern Iowa? And what about the close calls against Arkansas State, Michigan, Michigan State or coming back from 14 points down to beat Indiana?
Last year, the Hawkeyes were 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
“It wasn’t a clean road for them,” Van Sloten said of the 2009 seniors. “They had their highs and lows, but they were able to persevere through it all (and) find ways to win.
“That’s something we can pass on to these younger guys and the rest of the team.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football