Nobody had a way of knowing at the time, but the mess that was the 2012 Iowa football season would play an important role in the cleanup this fall.
Unlike last year’s team that finished 4-8, the current Hawkeye squad, which is 8-4 heading into the Outback Bowl, had the same chip on its shoulder that was so common during the early years under Kirk Ferentz.
“I knew we had a good solid core of guys coming back,” said senior offensive lineman Brett Van Sloten. “I feel that the 4-8 season kind of knocked us off our toes. It’s a bad feeling when you end after the Nebraska game and you have nothing to look forward to after that.
“So we were hungry the whole offseason. We also tried to flush it. But at the same time, it’s hard to flush a season like that. So it was always in the back of our mind.”
Failure can be a powerful motivator, especially when your time to fix the problem is running out, as was the case for the Iowa seniors heading into this season.
And now here they are almost four months later preparing to face Louisiana State in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla., the reward for Iowa doubling its win total from last season.
The improvements made on the field certainly have provided most of the fuel for this latest resurgence under Ferentz, particularly at quarterback and on the defensive line. But don’t overlook the impact of being hungry, as Van Sloten described it.
This isn’t to suggest that the 2012 squad had little motivation, but rather that the 2013 team had more than usual because of what happened last season.
It hurt Van Sloten to see Ferentz’s name dragged through the mud during the offseason. The criticism grew to where one national sportswriter listed Ferentz among the five worst coaches in college football.
“Everyone was getting after him last year after a 4-8 season and we all had a part in it. Us players didn’t perform well,” Van Sloten said. “But we stuck to it and coach Ferentz and (strength) coach (Chris) Doyle, they’ve been around the block once or twice. So just believing in what they had and staying the course and knowing that a lot of work had to be done is what we stayed true to. And, fortunately for us, it turned out well.”
Behind most successful college football teams you’ll find a strong and influential senior class leading the way, the current Iowa team being no exception. The 15 seniors on the team have led with their words and by example. They’ve inspired with their focus and work ethic and with their production on the field.
Van Sloten said he wasn’t worried as a senior about running out of time to fix the program. Senior linebacker Christian Kirksey said the same thing.
“You just have to keep working at it,” Kirksey said. “We knew that if we worked hard throughout the offseason that a great outcome would come. And that’s all we’ve been doing is just working hard. I’ve never doubted this.”
Fellow senior linebacker James Morris never doubted that the right pieces were in place to trigger a resurgence this season. But he admitted on Friday to being worried about running out of time before getting the program back on track.
“Well, obviously, you’re worried about it,” Morris said. “There’s doubt, there is worry, I suppose, in anything you do in life. There is always a risk that what you set out to do might not actually happen. You know, like I wanted to come here and win a Big Ten championship. That didn’t happen. But that doesn’t mean I’m disappointed in anything I’ve done.
“And that’s why you work hard, to sort of ease those doubts. And if you know that you’ve worked hard and you’ve done your best, even if you don’t achieve what you wanted to achieve, you still can be proud because what more could you have done?”
Morris and his cohorts could’ve done more this season. But they did enough to steer the ship back in the right direction and that’s a proud legacy for a senior class to leave behind.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football