IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s overachieving football season has had its share of underappreciated faces.
They are players, coaches and staff, flying under the headlines but performing tasks as important as anyone.
As Iowa prepares for its Jan. 1 meeting with LSU in the Outback Bowl, here are five unsung faces behind the Hawkeyes’ 8-4 season.
Brett Van Sloten
Senior linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey have played in the spotlight all season.
Another senior, Van Sloten, had all-Big Ten success in the trenches at right offensive tackle.
“With the linebackers, they’re a little more visible,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s more of a notable position. Kind of like a running back or skill player on offense. But Brett Van Sloten really embodies all the things that are good about football and college athletics.”
Van Sloten has played a key role on Iowa’s offensive line since the final game of his sophomore season. Markus Zusevics got sick and couldn’t play in the 2011 Insight Bowl vs. Oklahoma.
Van Sloten was next man in.
“Brett jumped in there and did a wonderful job,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz calls Van Sloten, from Decorah, “a hard-working, very intelligent, very tough-minded guy.” At Iowa’s team banquet earlier this month, Van Sloten and Morris were presented the Players Choice Award, selected by a vote of their teammates and based on “consistent effort, preparation and attention to detail, sacrifice and readiness.”
Van Sloten won’t be a guy who jumps off the charts at the NFL Combine, Ferentz said, but he’ll leave an impression.
“He’s a football player,” Ferentz said. “A team guy and an unbelieveable leader. He either coerces people to do things, or he threatens them. But the bottom line is, they follow him. He’s a guy you want them to follow. Because his agenda is pure.”
Iowa’s defensive line was young and inexperienced last season. So was Morgan, who had just moved to defensive line coach after leading the offensive line for nine seasons.
“None of this stuff is rocket science,” Ferentz said. “It’s more about getting teachers and teaching the right thing. Reese has done a great job. You look at how inexperienced we were a year ago, including Reese. That was his first year of coaching that group. Not that we’re the Purple People Eaters or the Steel Curtain right now, but I think we can hold our own up front.”
Iowa’s coaching staff has reinvented itself the past two seasons, but Morgan has been a mainstay. He joined Ferentz’s staff 14 years ago as the tight ends coach, after successful high school head-coaching terms at Benton of Van Horne and Iowa City West.
“One thing we knew was we were getting a tremendous teacher, evidenced by what he’d done in several programs,” Ferentz said.
Morgan’s teaching skills have remained constant, regardless of the position he coaches.
“Teaching is not just right foot, left foot,” Ferentz said. “It’s also the mind part of it, and getting guys to believe in themselves. That’s always been his strength. I’ve witnessed that with the tight ends, and now the defensive line. He’s just a tremendous football coach.”
Three guys posed for a picture during the Zach Johnson Foundation Pro-Am golf event this summer in Cedar Rapids.
On the left was Iowa’s Mike Meyer ,who would go on to make 16 of 21 field goals, and stretch his streak of consecutive point-after-touchdown kicks to 120, a school-record. Meyer heads to the Outback Bowl with 322 career points, second only to Nate Kaeding’s school-record 373.
In the middle was Kaeding, Iowa’s former Lou Groza Award winner and the second-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history.
And on the right, wearing an Iowa Football hat? That was Kreiter.
The senior from DeWitt has been the Hawkeyes’ reliable long snapper for the last three seasons.
He is anonymous, and accurate. Kreiter made 118 snaps this season without a hiccup — 58 punts, 21 field-goal attempts and 39 point-after kicks.
Kreiter received the 2013 Brett Greenwood Award, awarded to a walk-on “who embodies the values and behaviors” of the former Hawkeye safety.
Kreiter also has been on Iowa’s Leadership Group for the past three seasons. That group, selected by a player vote, helps formulate team policies and takes part in decision-making matters before the start of each season. Nothing to snap about.
Dr. Ned Amendola
One key to Iowa’s surprising season is the fact that not many players missed games because of injury.
“Part of that is luck, and fate,” Ferentz said. “Big-picture wise, for us to be successful, we can’t adjust to injuries maybe as well as some programs. We’re usually a little thinner. That’s why strength and conditioning is such a huge part of our equation here, and has been since Day 1.”
Chris Doyle is in his 15th season as Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach, building strong bodies to stand up to the rigors of a Big Ten season. But it’s that next step in the process that is important, too.
But it’s Amendola, the director of the University of Iowa Sports Medicine Center, who oversees the challenge of fixing what ails the Hawkeyes. He’s done it for the past 13 seasons, and received a distinguished service award at the team banquet earlier this month.
“Long overdue,”Ferentz said. “I joke that when he showed up here we started winning. I think there is some truth in that. Ned has just been fantastic.”
There is one image that speaks volumes to Iowa’s 2013 football season.
It’s a picture of defensive tackle Trinca-Pasat, standing over Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter with arms raised skyward in celebration, after the final play of a 17-10 overtime victory Oct. 26.
Trinca-Pasat had a shot at Colter in the backfield on the fourth-down play, tackled air and fell to the ground. But he got back up and chased down the elusive Wildcat short of the first down to secure the victory.
“Second chance” best describes Trinca-Pasat’s career, too. He finished the 2012 season with an injured shoulder that required offseason surgery and kept him out of spring practice.
“It’s tough when you’re not able to go out there and get better and be with your teammates,” Trinca-Pasat said.
He bounced back from that surgery to start every game this season, a vital piece of the Hawkeyes’ improved defensive line. Now, preparing for the Outback Bowl is much better than sitting home fretting over a 4-8 season in 2012.
“I think going home and having time to reflect and watch all those teams play bowl games just fired us up,” Trinca-Pasat said. “Once we came back we were all ready to go. We came together as a team. We had great chemistry.”
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football