TAMPA, Fla. – Iowa’s 2013 football team holds a special place in coach Kirk Ferentz’s heart.
That was clearly obvious after Wednesday’s 21-14 loss to No. 14 LSU in the Outback Bowl.
Ferentz appeared emotional and was fighting back tears when asked what this team meant to him. A team that had turned a 4-8 season in 2012 into an eight-win season a year later by following a formula of hard work, determination and grit.
“The thing that’s important is what these guys did the last 13 months,” Ferentz said. “The focus that they had, the commitment that they had, there’s not much else you can ask for. We’ve competed hard, and given ourselves a chance to win.”
Iowa’s climb was uphill all day Wednesday, but LSU could not pull away.
“That doesn’t happen if you’re not built right internally,” Ferentz said, pausing for a moment to catch himself. “Circle right back to those linebackers.”
Senior linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens established a pinnacle of leadership that was unmistakable.
“They’ve all had just tremendous careers,” Ferentz said. “A big part of us being here (Wednesday). Not only on the field, but in the leadership they provided.”
Morris had eight tackles against the Tigers and became the sixth player in program history to reach 400 for his career.
He also had two sacks, giving him a team-high eight for the year.
“We literally went from playing our last game in Kinnick Stadium (a year ago) to coming to Tampa and playing an extremely good opponent in LSU,” Morris said. “More so than that, we really took it upon ourselves to help increase the football IQ, the football capital, if you will. I think we did a good job.
“I’m confident, moving forward, that they’re going to keep things going in the right direction.”
Hitchens had 10 tackles, his 13th career game with double-digit stops. He led the team with 112 tackles this season. Kirksey finished with 104.
“One thing Coach always told us is that Iowa is built on a certain type of foundation,” Kirksey said. “We were honored to be around guys like Jeremiha Hunter, Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds. We were able to learn from them. It’s something we take ownership in.”
All three linebackers went through the program in four years, without a redshirt season mixed in.
“I got to experience a lot of cool things,” Morris said. “Most importantly, I got to meet a lot of really interesting people and build some close relationships that hopefully I’ll have for the rest of my life.”
Asked where his program was headed in the future, Ferentz said he’d start worrying about that Thursday. He did say his other seniors deserved credit for the reversal of fortune, too.
“The senior class really set the bar high,” junior running back Mark Weisman said. “They completely turned our season around. It’s up to us underclassmen to keep it going.”
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football