Leistikow: Josey Jewell is embodiment of Hawkeye football
CHICAGO — Josey Jewell wasn’t supposed to be here. Not in the way we usually think about how college football stars emerge, anyway.
Yet here he was, the first non-senior that Kirk Ferentz has brought to the Big Ten Conference’s media days in 18 years as Iowa’s head coach.
A senior at Decorah High School, he had all but decided on Division III Luther College over FCS Northern Iowa, which offered much less than a football scholarship.
“It was just to cover books. I wasn’t thinking about it too seriously,” Jewell says. “I was more leaning toward Luther.”
“I didn’t think I was that good,” Jewell says.
The rest of the Iowa Conference is thankful that Reese Morgan came along.
Ferentz’s trusted longtime assistant had a hunch about Jewell, who didn’t have the recruiting measurables. But he was a winner at Decorah. Still, Ferentz wasn’t sure if Jewell had the speed it took to be a Division I linebacker. But he's learned to listen to Morgan.
“It wasn’t all that obvious on the tape, necessarily,” Ferentz says. “Reese just had a feeling about him, and he couldn’t have been more right.”
It was a feeling ... and maybe fate.
Here at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Jewell told a story about breaking his hand as a 4-year-old on his family farm.
That was in 1999. While he and his father waited for the doctor, the news came across on the TV: Ferentz was being introduced as Iowa’s coach.
Jewell's life path was about to follow Ferentz’s.
As he grew into football, he followed the Hawkeyes closely. The three players he wanted to emulate? Dallas Clark, Chad Greenway and Pat Angerer. Good choices.
That trio might comprise the most classic, self-made Hawkeyes in the Ferentz era:
- Clark, the small-town Iowa walk-on who became an all-pro, Super Bowl-winning tight end for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
- Greenway, the 8-man player from South Dakota (also discovered by Morgan) who starred as a linebacker with Iowa and then with the Minnesota Vikings.
- And Angerer, the animal from Bettendorf who posted a legendary first-team all-America season in 2009 as Iowa’s middle linebacker.
The last one is Jewell’s guy.
Like Angerer did, he wears No. 43. Both exude character that's off the charts.
“I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps,” Jewell said. “The things he did, his lifestyle stuff, how he’s seen and perceived off the field, too.”
Hawkeye fans who revered Angerer’s intensity now see it in Jewell, too.
So does Angerer, who tweeted during the Big Ten Championship Game that Jewell was the “Best 43 in Iowa history.”
“He didn’t mean that,” Jewell contends. “He was just trying to be nice. It’s alright, I understand that.”
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Maybe humility adds to what makes Jewell so liked among his teammates, too.
He became the first sophomore to be voted by players to Iowa’s Leadership Group. Everyone agreed to send him here to Chicago, too — the first junior under Ferentz, known for giving such rewards to seniors.
“He competes his butt off. He’s a guy you want on your team,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard says. “You want to be behind him. You want a guy that’s going to put his body (on the line) and sell out.”
In 2013, on Iowa's scout team, Jewell took his lumps, in part from fellow Decorah native and offensive lineman Brett Van Sloten. Believe it or not, the lumps were delivered out of love.
“Brett used to take unmerciful cheap shots on Josey,” Ferentz says. “I knew what he was doing. I’ve seen the (big) brother act before. But that was, 'I’m passing this onto you'.”
Jewell rose into Iowa’s 2015 plans after he was one of the only ones going all-out during that TaxSlayer Bowl disaster in Jacksonville against Tennessee. While his team was down 42-7, Jewell was going hard on every play.
That's continued. Even the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner, cornerback Desmond King, concedes that Jewell is the captain of the Iowa defense.
Just like Angerer was before him.
“I think (Angerer was) one of those ultimate Hawkeye guys,” Jewell says. “He emulates what an Iowa football player is: tough, physical, just gritty, does a lot of the small things right.”
That’s Jewell now, too. And no doubt, he belongs here.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.