IOWA CITY, Ia. — Never before has Kirk Ferentz been blessed with such running back riches.
The Iowa football coach returns his top three rushers from last season, while potential breakout performers LeShun Daniels Jr., Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker are progressing behind the scenes.
Add it all up, and the Hawkeyes’ ground game could be even more impressive this season.
“I’d hope so,” senior tailback Mark Weisman said. “We definitely have a lot of great running backs, pushing each other. Good healthy competition out there.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have the best year we’ve had in a long time.”
Weisman led Iowa with 975 rushing yards in 2013, followed by Jordan Canzeri with 481 and Damon Bullock’s 467.
It was the first time since Ferentz took over the Hawkeye program in 1999 that three running backs eclipsed the 400-yard plateau in the same year – although in 2002, quarterback Brad Banks (423 rushing yards) joined Jermelle Lewis (709) and Fred Russell (1,264) to complete a similar trifecta.
“There is definitely potential on this team,” Weisman said, “but potential only goes so far.
“It’s about how hard you’re willing to work.”
According to Ferentz, most of the workouts will be non-contact.
It is unlikely Weisman, Canzeri, Bullock or Daniels will endure regular collisions during summer practices.
“If a guy has proven he can be secure with the ball in competition, we’re really careful,” Ferentz said. “So I think that will probably be the approach with (Weisman) and Damon’s carries and Jordan.
“We’re going to be a little bit limited with those guys, probably. But you’ve still got to get ready, too. And they’ve got to get tackled a little bit, just to be ready for the season.”
Weisman and company will spend more time as mentors.
Daniels, a 6-foot, 215 pound sophomore, showed glimpses of his potential, averaging 3.9 yards on 36 carries last season. Wadley, a 5-11, 180-pound freshman from New Jersey, and Parker, 5-8, 180-pound freshman from St. Louis, both redshirted last fall.
The Hawkeyes’ latest recruiting class included running backs C.J. Hilliard and Markel Smith, but it’s unlikely either will make much of an impact in the near future.
“You’ve got to show them the Iowa way, from the start,” Weisman said. “If they get that foundation of what an Iowa football player is and what you’re expected to do, then it’ll be an easier road for them.”
Weisman, Canzeri and Bullock combined for 1,923 yards in 2013.
That’s the third-highest three-back total of the Ferentz era, behind the 2008 trio of Shonn Greene (1,850), Jewel Hampton (463) and Paki O’Meara (62), which combined for 2,375, and 2002 when Fred Russell (1,264), Jermelle Lewis (709) and Edgar Cervantes (134) netted 2,107.
Greene earned all-America honors and became a two-time, 1,000-yard rusher for the NFL’s New York Jets.
The current group may lack that sort of star power, but boasts plenty of balance and attitude.
“We talk about finishing runs, breaking tackles, making guys miss out there,” Weisman said. “You always want the offensive line to have a huge gaping hole. But if not, you’ve got to find a way to get that play.”
Daniels figures to get more carries this fall, giving the Hawkeyes perhaps the deepest, most diverse running back corps in the Big Ten.
“Mark and LeShun are the big backs, the power backs,” left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “And then we’ve got Damon and Jordan, who aren’t afraid of contact, either, (and) they’ve got speed.
“We’re going to do our job, and we know they’re going to do their job, too.”
THE POWER OF THREE
The top five three-running back combos during Kirk Ferentz’s tenure as Iowa’s football coach, based on single-season yardage totals:
2,375 — in 2008 by Shonn Greene (1,850), Jewel Hampton (463) and Paki O’Meara (62)
2,107 — in 2002 by Fred Russell (1,264), Jermelle Lewis (709) and Edgar Cervantes (134)
1,923 — in 2013 by Mark Weisman (974), Jordan Canzeri (481) and Damon Bullock (467)
1,803 — in 2005 by Albert Young (1,334), Damian Sims (296) and Shonn Greene (173)
1,759 — in 2003 by Fred Russell (1,355), Jermelle Lewis (241) and Marcus Schnoor (163)
RECRUITING NEWS: The Iowa football team received its 11th verbal commitment for the 2015 recruiting class Monday when linebacker Justin Jinning accepted a scholarship offer from the Hawkeyes.
Jinning also received an offer from New Mexico State, and drew interest from Arkansas, Baylor, Missouri, Kansas State and others.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jinning is listed as a three-star prospect by Scout.com and a two-star prospect by Rivals.