IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz calls them good stories — players who defy the odds to have success as a Hawkeye.
Greg Mabin has a chance to become one of them.
One game doesn’t make a story, but there is a plot unfolding in the Iowa football program as Mabin continues his ascent as a defensive back after switching from receiver in the spring of 2013.
The sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., made his first start as a Hawkeye in last Saturday’s 31-23 victory over Northern Iowa. He helped to secure the victory by making his first career interception in the fourth quarter.
“Greg did a good job first time out,” said Ferentz, Iowa’s 16th-year head coach. “I think that was really one of the highlights.”
Mabin’s left cornerback position was one of the uncertainties heading into this season, which continues with Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game against Ball State at Kinnick Stadium
Sophomore Desmond King was firmly entrenched at right cornerback after starting 12 games last season as a true freshman.
But a battle was waged throughout spring practice and during preseason practice between Mabin, Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper for the other cornerback spot.
“I came in with the mindset that I was going to take the job,” Mabin said.
Mabin’s rise up the depth chart, from third team to first, could be an awkward situation, considering that Fleming is his roommate and that Draper lives down the hall.
However, Mabin said the competition hasn’t affected their friendship.
“There is no animosity,” Mabin said.
Mabin started to become one of Ferentz’s stories on the day he asked to meet with Ferentz in his office. Mabin was convinced as a true freshman that he needed to make a change — not in positions, but jersey number.
Mabin wanted to switch from No. 88. Ferentz gave him several choices, but it was another change that Ferentz suggested that had the biggest impact.
“I went into coach Ferentz’s office asking if I could change my number, and he hit me with the how would you feel about changing positions?” Mabin said. “So I was with it. I was cool with it.”
Mabin now wears uniform No. 13, striking a blow against superstition.
“It just sounded the best at the time,” Mabin said. “’It’s just a number.”
Mabin, who barely was recruited in high school, meets the criteria to be one of Ferentz’s stories.
Iowa was the only major college program to offer Mabin a scholarship. Jacksonville State and Tulane also extended offers.
“I definitely felt like I had something to prove,” Mabin said. “I felt like it’s a lot of motivation being the underdog. I’ve been used to that my whole life. So it just makes me grind even harder.”
Mabin’s father, Wesley, played cornerback at Nebraska from 1968 to 1971, winning two national titles under legendary coach Bob Devaney. His cousin, Jordan Mabin, played cornerback at Northwestern from 2008 to 2011 and dabbled in the NFL.
At Iowa, Greg Mabin began to question whether he was in the right place. He was redshirted as a receiver in 2012 and didn’t appear in any games as a redshirt freshman defensive back last season.
“It was definitely some hard times because the reason you do offseason workouts and you do the conditioning is to play,” Mabin said. “And when you’re doing all the work, but not reaping the benefits of it, it’s kind of frustrating.
“It was tough. I would have to talk to family back at home and old high school coaches, my dad and my mom and cousins, everyone. They were a big influence on me. They definitely helped me a lot. They told me to stick it out. They told me that God has a bigger plan and just trust him. And things have been working out ever since.”
Iowa senior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said he saw Mabin put in a lot of offseason work in making the transition to defensive back.
Mabin also has good size for a cornerback, listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds.
“He has very quick feet and he has great hips,” Martin-Manley said. “And he’s also a smart guy and he finishes plays.
“He can high point the ball. In camp, he went to get a couple interceptions. He has a lot of athletic ability. So that whole package has really helped him out.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football