Hawkeye star Wadley ready to take a run at Heisman

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — He may be Iowa’s most visible football player when fall arrives, but at Friday’s spring game Akrum Wadley made only two brief appearances on the Kinnick Stadium turf.

The senior tailback took his turn in line to field punts during warmups. And he smiled in the middle of a group of reporters afterward as he fielded questions for the first time since the Hawkeyes’ loss in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2.

“I tried to go today,” Wadley grinned. “They said, ‘Nah.’

“Sometimes, it can get boring on the sideline.”

It was a non-contact spring for Iowa senior running back Akrum Wadley, here racing children during the open practice in West Des Moines on April 7, 2017.

Wadley had the most eventful January of any Iowa player. First, he decided to return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL Draft after racking up 1,396 yards from scrimmage and scoring 13 touchdowns last year, both team highs. Then he had surgery on a knee that had been bothering him off and on for much of the season.

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Wadley, always engaging in media sessions, told reporters that he was glad he came back — to earn a degree in communication studies, try to help the Hawkeyes win a Big Ten Conference title, and maybe even improve on his statistics from a year ago.

Wadley admitted he wrote down some personal goals. The highlights: gain 1,400 yards rushing and win the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s top running back.

What about the Heisman Trophy?

Wadley was quick with an answer: “That, too. Yeah.”

So being the best player in the nation is on Wadley’s list. And why shouldn’t it be? He’s no longer sharing the job in Iowa’s backfield with the graduated LeShun Daniels Jr. And he is running behind the same veteran offensive line for a team that looks to run the football first and last.

In addition, while Wadley was kept out of contact drills, his coaches were drawing up new ways to get him more involved in the offense and on special teams. 

There has been talk of splitting Wadley out wide to use him as a receiver. Returning punts and maybe even kickoffs is also a real possibility. Iowa has a void there with the graduation of Desmond King. Wadley filled those roles as a high school player in New Jersey.

If there was any doubt, Wadley affirmed that he excelled as a returner and would be happy to take up those duties again.

Of course, there is always the question of Wadley’s weight. He came to Iowa at 167 pounds. Coach Kirk Ferentz has long said Wadley needed to weight at least 190 to be most effective. Getting there was a long process.

Wadley said he is at 192 pounds and feeling healthy now. He wants to add another three pounds by the time the season starts Sept. 2.

And he wants opposing defenses to feel every bit of that weight.

“I understand the more pounds I get, the longer I can last, get 20 or 30 carries a game. The extra weight wouldn’t hurt,” Wadley said.

“There’s a lot of things I can add: pass-blocking, being more vertical downfield, not juking all the time. That’s why I’m trying to gain some extra pounds so I can start running some people over.”

Ferentz said he’s been encouraged by Wadley’s hunger.

“He's not a defiant guy by any means, but he's a little flighty every now and then with that stuff,” Ferentz said of the weight issue. “He understands. It's important to him. He's rehabbed well, and when he has practiced out there, we've had him in non-contact drills. He's moved well. He's focused on the right things. That's what I'm seeing, and I think he understands he can really help our football team next year.”

Wadley won’t be asked to go it alone, but he will be the lead back for the first time in his career. He said he’s impressed with second-year players Toks Akinribade and Toren Young, in line to be his backups.

“They’re capable of doing anything I’m capable of doing,” Wadley said.

This spring, Akinribade and Young got the bulk of the reps while Wadley handled some light seven-on-seven duty, spent time in the weight room, and observed.

On Brian Ferentz, promoted to offensive coordinator in January, Wadley said: “He’s more eager.”

On the battle to start at quarterback between Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers: “I feel like either one of them can lead this team. It’s going to be something to watch.”

And on all his inactivity, something Wadley is hardly used to: “It felt like I was redshirting again.”

Wadley flashed one final grin, clearly happy to be talking football at least. Rest easy, Hawkeye fans, he’ll be playing it soon enough.