Broderick Binns draws on his playing days to help young Hawkeyes adjust to college life
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Every freshman football player who comes to Iowa is assigned an honorary older sibling: Broderick Binns.
It’s Binns’ job to help the young Hawkeyes handle the transition to life as a big-time college athlete.
And Binns certainly has a personal story he can share with them.
In 2007, he was a hotshot recruit out of Minnesota high school powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall. Binns, a 6-foot-2 defensive end, stayed home to nurse a hamstring injury that summer, not arriving in Iowa City until training camp began in August.
All of his classmates had already bonded during two months of studying and workouts. Binns, still not completely healthy, was unable to participate in all the practices and felt shut off from his teammates away from the field.
In his third week on campus, on a blistering hot afternoon, Binns called home in between his two-a-day practice sessions. He wanted to quit the sport.
His mother, Ericka, answered.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if I love football this much. I’m injured. I have no friends. And no one’s really reaching out to me,’” Binns recalled. “My mom said, ‘That may be the case. But you’re not coming home.’ I said, ‘Well, can I talk to dad?’ And she said: ‘No. You’re not talking to dad. It’s hard right now, but you realize if you quit right now, you’ll always be a quitter.’
“And here I am now,” Binns concluded with a smile, seated in his office at the Iowa football complex where he is in his fourth year as the team’s director of player development.
Binns, 30, is not far removed from a Hawkeye playing career that concluded in 2011, when he was the team’s defensive MVP. That is one thing he brings to his role as a guidance counselor of sorts for current players who may be experiencing some of the same feelings he had.
“He told us straight off the bat that he was going to be more of a big brother than a father figure and a coach,” Iowa sophomore defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon said of Binns. “Just having him as that positive role model of what an Iowa Hawkeye is and what it should be helps a lot and it shapes a lot of minds here.
“A lot of people don’t know that about him.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz created the role of director of player development in 2008, the year after Binns nearly quit, and gave it to former Hawkeye player Chic Ejiasi.
Binns remembers leaning on Ejiasi for advice both as a player and as a graduate assistant coach from 2014-16. It was Ejiasi who helped clarify for Binns that he did not really want a coaching career, one that might entail frequent moves and uncertainty about job prospects.
Binns and his wife, Kailey, have two children now. He realized he wanted to keep his family rooted in Iowa City. He didn’t realize that his future would be the very job that Ejiasi held.
Ejiasi left for a similar role with the Tennessee Titans in March 2016. Binns took over the next month.
“I realized that I love helping. I love giving back. Chic did that for me, as a player,” Binns said. “I felt like I could do that for someone else.”
Binns is responsible for keeping Hawkeye players on track academically. He makes sure they don’t do anything to compromise their amateur status.
And he finds opportunities for his players to contribute to the community, making frequent appearances at the children’s hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, Camp Courageous and elsewhere.
This summer, the Freedom Foundation in Cedar Rapids wrote Binns, wondering if some Hawkeyes would like to come up and help serve a weekly lunch to military veterans. Freshman defensive lineman Logan Lee and junior kicker Keith Duncan were happy to accompany him. They spent 90 minutes talking with the veterans, handing out food and cleaning up trays.
“It was the coolest thing that I have ever done,” Binns said. “Some guys were willing to share a few stories of back in the day when they were in a war. I’m going to try and do that every summer.”
During the season, Binns attends practices and pays particular attention to the demeanor of the players. He knows when someone is having an off day, when they’re missing assignments they normally wouldn’t, perhaps hearing some pointed language from their coach.
“After practice, maybe I’ll grab him and ask him to talk for five minutes. Is it academics? Is it just a bad day? What’s bothering you and how can we help you to get back to normal?” Binns said.
“Coach Ferentz gives me that longer leash to be able to go out and do that. He doesn’t need to know that I do it.”
All of the Hawkeyes have Binns’ cell phone number. He tells them to call him anytime, day or night, if they need to talk. Some of them take him up on that. His degree is in psychology. He says that listening is one of his biggest strengths.
Binns does not miss coaching. He believes his current job is what he was born to do, and hopes to continue in the role for years to come.
“I feel like I have more of an impact on a kid’s life,” Binns said. “In this role, I don’t care if you play four years, if you start 10 games, I really don’t care. My job is to make sure that you’re doing the things necessary off the field that you graduate and you become a productive member of our society.”
None of this would have happened without Ericka Binns on the other end of that phone call 12 years ago.
“Football’s supposed to be tough. It’s supposed to be hard. It builds you up mentally, physically, all that,” Broderick Binns said.
“I tell her all the time that I’m grateful that she didn’t let me quit. Because it would have been the biggest mistake of my life.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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