Akrum Wadley, James Butler are backfield buddies for Iowa Hawkeyes
IOWA CITY, Ia. — James Butler and Akrum Wadley stood about 10 yards apart Saturday and lobbed compliments back and forth.
“He makes cuts I’ve never seen before,” Butler said of Wadley. “He can cut from like here to Cedar Rapids. It’s crazy. I really like his game and it’s been nice watching him. I pick his brain a lot.”
That statement was quickly relayed to Wadley, Iowa’s incumbent star tailback.
“That was cute,” Wadley said with his high-watt smile. “Butler is the man. He’s the one that makes the cuts you’ve never seen before.”
All was well with the Hawkeye seniors who will be expected to carry the ground game this fall. But of course it would look that way at the team’s annual media day.
Wadley said Butler reached out to him before he announced he was transferring from Nevada to Iowa this summer.
“That was huge,” Wadley said of the gesture, one alpha dog to another.
“He’s a nice guy. He’s not arrogant. He’s not selfish, you know? That’s perfect.”
Wadley rushed for 1,081 yards as a Hawkeye junior, splitting carries with senior LeShun Daniels Jr. Daniels is with the New England Patriots now. Wadley flirted with the NFL Draft, but returned to Iowa City, he said, to help the Hawkeyes win a bowl game.
Undoubtedly, he expected to be the feature back in that process.
Butler, an Illinois native who grew up rooting for Iowa, fell into the team’s plans in July. The Hawkeyes didn’t offer him a scholarship three years ago, so Butler headed to Nevada and put up 3, 316 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns in three seasons.
He also hit the books.
“After the season, I looked at my credits I still had left. And I realized if I pushed hard in the spring I would be able to graduate in three years. So that was probably my best bet,” Butler said.
Word got out that Butler was looking to transfer for his senior season, and that he wouldn’t have to sit out a year since he’d already earned his diploma. Butler said he got a little nervous when Indiana and Louisville initially pursued him harder than Iowa. But the Hawkeyes came through, and his “Plan A” was back on the table.
He’s always wanted to compete in the Big Ten Conference.
“Just being a smaller guy, not really a big physical presence as people may say, that always drives me,” said Butler, who is listed at 5-foot-9, 210 pounds.
Butler was smart enough to know he needed to reach out to Wadley, to reassure him that he was coming to Iowa in search of victories — and a little redemption — and not just personal glory.
“It was never really awkward,” Butler said. “I’m not a big ‘I’m here to take your spot’ kind of guy. I’m a team guy. I came here for the betterment of the team.”
Wadley said Butler reminds him of Daniels. He envisions another season in which two tailbacks complement — and compliment — each other.
“He can run you over. He can shake you. He can juke you. He can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Wadley said of Butler.
“He knows how to lower his whole body when he gets to the hole. He knows how to get skinny through the hole. He’s mature like LeShun. … With James getting carries, with Toren (Young) getting carries, that keeps us all healthy. One guy don’t have to take 40 hits a game."
Butler, who is not yet listed on Iowa’s depth chart, said he’s looking to carve out any role. He's just another hungry newcomer.
“I know football’s a game of, 'What can you do for me now?'” Butler said. “I’m just trying to earn a spot like any other man on the team.”
Butler and Wadley are both in competition to be Iowa’s punt and kickoff returner as well this fall. Both seem eager to add that to their repertoire.
“Hopefully, it’s like riding a bike,” Butler said of return duties, something he hasn’t done since high school.
But Wadley said it’s maturity that he’s really looking to add. As a senior, he knows he must eliminate mental miscues.
“I can’t make any type of mistakes because I’ve got guys behind me that are looking up to me,” Wadley said.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz went out of his way to praise Wadley in his comments to the media Saturday.
“Akrum is one of our best football players,” Ferentz said. “Boy, he's right on task right now. His weight's good (195 pounds), his attitude has been tremendous. He's practicing really well.”
And he’s got a new running mate to push him along.