IOWA CITY, Ia. -- Dallas Clark beat long odds to play 11 seasons as a tight end in the National Football League.
He started his career at Iowa as a walk-on linebacker. He actually intercepted a pass against Northwestern in 2000, even though teammate and current Iowa linebackers coach LeVar Woods got credit for it.
But the record shows that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has an eye for tight ends. Clark was moved to that position in 2001 and was an immediate starter. A season later, he was a first-team all-Big Ten and all-America selection. Clark was drafted in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft by Indianapolis and retired two months ago.
Clark is one of 11 Hawkeyes who have made an NFL roster after playing tight end at Iowa under Ferentz. C.J. Fiedorowicz, a third-round pick of the Houston Texans in April, is the eighth Ferentz-coached tight end to get drafted. The tight end tradition started under Hayden Fry, Ferentz's predecessor, who had stand-up tight ends such as Marv Cook and Jonathan Hayes make it big in the NFL.
"It's a sweet list," Clark said. "To be part of that is pretty special. I hope it continues. I want to see C.J. do well in the pros. And I want to see these young kids develop and make a name for themselves. I hope some day someone goes, 'Oh, he's better than Dallas.' That means the program is going in the right direction. I'll argue with them. But that would be great."
Senior Ray Hamilton has emerged as the starter at tight end heading into the Aug. 30 opener against Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. But junior Jake Duzey, sophomore George Kittle and junior Henry Krieger-Coble, who Ferentz calls one of the most improved players on the team, also will play this season as Iowa continues to use multiple tight end formations.
"That's why you come to a school like Iowa, because the tradition it carries is unmatched," Hamilton said. "You've just got to embrace it every day and know you have to carry on that tradition because you don't want to let everyone down."
So what makes a good tight end in the Ferentz system, and how does that translate to the NFL?
"You've got to have a little toughness and a little chip on your shoulder," Clark said. "Working hard and showing up every day goes a long way. That mentality carries over from college to the pros."
Clark said the program has everything a player needs to be successful if he chooses to take advantage of it, from Ferentz to strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
"All you have to do is show up with a wanting attitude, a selfless attitude, and great things are going to happen," Clark said.
If he could give the current crop of tight ends advice, Clark would tell them to be their own worst critic.
"I think athletes today kind of focus on things they do well and ride that out," Clark said. "I think a true, competitive athlete, the ones who are going to be around longer, look at the negative, the things they don't do well. And they say, 'What do I have to do to get better? Who can help me?' And then you work at your craft."
Clark learned quickly that catching passes is just one requirement of the tight ends at Iowa. An ability to be an extension of the offensive line as a good blocker is even more important.
"The first thing I was told when I got here was you've got to be able to block," said Duzey, admitting that was a concept that took him some time to grasp. "It's a mindset. You've just got to go out there and do it. It's not fun or something you're always going to like, but you've got to do it to be able to play."
Hamilton, who has worked his way up the tight end pecking order during his four-year career, had to learn the same thing as Duzey.
"If your job is to move a dude across the line of scrimmage with a run block, you've got to take as much pride in that as you do in catching a touchdown pass," Hamilton said. "You've got to know your role and execute it."
All four Iowa tight ends have aspirations of playing on Sunday and adding to Iowa's college-to-pro success under Ferentz.
"It's exciting to be part of a group that has great tradition at Iowa," Krieger-Coble said. "It's awesome to know that we all have a chance to keep that legacy going."
IOWA'S NFL TIGHT ENDS UNDER KIRK FERENTZ
On current rosters: Scott Chandler, Buffalo; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston; Tony Moeaki, Buffalo; Brandon Myers, Tampa Bay; Allen Reisner, Minnesota.
Former NFL players: Dallas Clark, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, 2003-13; Zeron Flemister, Washington, New England, Oakland, 2000-05; Brad Herman, New England, 2012; Tony Jackson, Seattle, New York Giants, 2005-06; Erik Jensen, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, 2004-05; Austin Wheatley, New Orleans, Dallas, 2000-01.
FERENTZ TIGHT ENDS SELECTED IN NFL DRAFT
2014: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston, 3rd round
2010: Tony Moeaki, Kansas City, 3rd round
2009: Brandon Myers, Oakland, 6th round
2007: Scott Chandler, San Diego, 4th round
2005: Tony Jackson, Seattle, 6th round
2004: Erik Jensen, St. Louis, 7th round
2003: Dallas Clark, Indianapolis, 1st round
2000: Austin Wheatley, New Orleans, 5th round