Iowa's Josey Jewell wraps up a remarkable career his way — on the field with his friends

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Josey Jewell was traveling around the country earlier this month collecting trophies.

That’s what is required when you’re completing one of the best college football careers a linebacker has ever had.

But there was a part of Jewell that wished he was back in Iowa City with his Iowa teammates getting ready for the Pinstripe Bowl.

One All-American tackling another -- Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell wraps up Penn State's Saquon Barkley in September at Kinnick Stadium. Jewell enters the Pinstripe Bowl with 426 career tackles, to rank fifth in Hawkeye history.

Jewell, a three-time team captain with the Hawkeyes, hates missing practices. His awards-show circuit required him to be away for a couple.

“I’d like to be at all of them,” Jewell said last week. “I’d like to stay on top of my game, have the defense have me out there, because in the game they’re going to have me out there. To be able to have us all jell together.”

Jewell has been on top of his game like few Hawkeyes ever. His 426 career tackles are fifth in program history. He was Iowa’s 25th consensus all-American this fall, meaning his photo will be displayed permanently on the wall in the football complex, a goal of his since stepping on campus.

On Wednesday, Jewell’s familiar No. 43 will be right in the middle of the Hawkeye defense when Iowa (7-5) faces Boston College (7-5) at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is at 4:15 p.m. on ESPN.

It’s not the pageantry of bowl games that is compelling Jewell to suit up. He keeps the pins from previous bowl games in his sock drawer, and reckons that’s where this one will end up as well.

It’s the chance to compete alongside his friends one final time. Jewell said he never considered skipping the bowl game as some seniors do, not wanting to take a chance on injury before the NFL Draft.

“Whatever their mental thought or process is, maybe there’s a reasoning, mine is: Might as well play with them. You’ve been playing with them for the last how many years. So you might as well finish it out,” Jewell said.

“It’s the last game I’m ever going to play with the team, the last game I’m ever going to play with the coaches. So it’s going to mean a lot.”

Jewell, a four-sport star at Decorah High School, did the same thing in the summer of 2013. Instead of heading to Iowa City to jump-start his college football career as incoming freshmen normally do, he stuck around for one final season of prep baseball.

But then there’s nothing really normal about Jewell. His teammates have noticed that over the past five years. He came to Iowa with no fanfare and will leave as one of the most decorated Hawkeyes ever.

“You look at him, when he’s here training and in the offseason running, he’s not that fast. He’s not a ‘combine’ guy. But when you put pads on him, he’s the first one to the ball. Just the instincts that he has are amazing,” said defensive tackle Nathan Bazata, a fellow senior who shares a farming background with Jewell.

“He’s always watching extra film at home, watching extra film here. And when we’re here, it’s full speed all the time, whether it’s a ladder drill or sprints. He always has to be first.”

Jewell has been incredibly consistent in his three years as a starter. He had 126 tackles as a sophomore to lead the Big Ten Conference. He had 124 last year. This year, he’s at 125 and counting, despite missing one game — an overtime loss at Northwestern — with a shoulder injury.

Ben Niemann slid from his outside linebacker spot to replace Jewell in the middle in that one. Niemann and Bo Bower typically flank Jewell at the linebacker spots, with a combined 119 starts among them.

Wednesday’s game will bring that total to 122, and mark the end of an era — for that trio and for the Hawkeye program.

“It will probably just hit after the game is over, honestly,” Niemann said. “We’ll just try to have as much fun as we can this last game with each other. We’ve had a lot of great experiences together and the relationships that have been built will last once this is all over.”

Jewell said he isn’t yet ready to dwell on what is ending.

“It’s a pretty important chapter of my life, so I’ll look back on it later and probably see that it’s a massive one and a game-changer for me,” he said. “When I think about it in the future I’ll maybe get a little emotional about it and think about how it impacted me. And hopefully how I impacted them and how we bettered each other’s lives.”

The group hasn’t yet experienced a bowl victory. That’s the first priority for all of them, Jewell said.

He was thinking about that even while out in California receiving one of the most meaningful awards a player can get. Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott was on hand to present his namesake trophy to Jewell.

Lott’s IMPACT award goes to the college defensive player who represents the best combination of “Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.”

Jewell, who is not given to sentimentality, was clearly moved by the experience. He relished the opportunity to meet not only Lott, but his fellow finalists for the award: Micah Kiser of Virginia, Harrison Phillips of Stanford and Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama. There was a strong sense of mutual respect.

“They weren’t the 'I' people, all caring about themselves, which is really cool,” Jewell said. “Because maybe if you go to other award ceremonies you’ll get the guys that only care about themselves. These guys will hold the door open for you; you’ll do the same for them.”

You can bet that trophy won’t end up in a drawer next to Jewell’s socks.