Writing recently about the unlikely rise to stardom of Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, I thought it’d be fun to follow up with some wider perspective.
I wondered: Where could Jewell — a barely-recruited Iowa native who would become the first-ever sophomore under Kirk Ferentz voted as team captain by his peers — end up among the most quintessential Hawkeyes?
Think about it another way: If you wanted to explain the essence of a great Hawkeye under Ferentz to a stranger, who would you pick first to tell them about? (To make it easier, pick three.)
I wanted to keep the conversation within Ferentz’s 17-plus years as head coach, because trying to involve the likes of Nile Kinnick, Calvin Jones and Chuck Long would unnecessarily complicate things. Those guys, and many others, are greats and always will be beloved Hawkeyes.
Also, die-hard Hawkeye fans in their mid-20s should remember enough of Ferentz’s early years, particularly the 2002 season, which introduced us to some of the program's icons, to make informed arguments.
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I also wanted to keep the current Hawkeyes out of it. Their stories are still being written.
After throwing the question out on Twitter, dozens of names came back. It ultimately led to a 16-player “Quintessential Hawkeye” bracket, where the most-mentioned guys got the best seeds.
The game: To identify the top three Quintessential Hawkeyes under Ferentz.
Definitions varied, which makes this even more fun.
And after another round of Twitter polls and 6,000-plus votes, we’re down to the final eight.
There are compelling cases for any of these guys to make the top three.
Here they are, in chronological order; you decide:
The only Ferentz player to be invited the Heisman Trophy ceremony is a good start. In his only season as a starter, Banks in 2002 became the first quarterback to lead the Hawkeyes to an 8-0 Big Ten record, accounting for 3,000-plus yards and 31 touchdowns (with just five interceptions). He throttled Michigan in the Big House, won the Davey O’Brien Award and finished second to Carson Palmer in the Heisman balloting. The Hawkeyes were back in the national conversation, and that wouldn’t have happened in Ferentz’s fourth season without the previously unheralded Banks.
Clark became the poster child for walk-on success stories under Ferentz. The Livermore native switched from linebacker to tight end going into his junior season, and it was a good choice. As a senior in 2002, Clark won the Mackey Award as college football’s top tight end, and along with Eric Steinbach, became Ferentz’s first consensus all-American. At Iowa, Clark finished with 1,281 career receiving yards — 95 on one memorable play in the wild 2002 win over Purdue. He went on to bigger things in the NFL, where he hauled in 505 career passes, won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts and was at one point the league’s highest-paid player at his position.
The definition of “Farm Strong,” Gallery became strength coach Chris Doyle’s blueprint for growing an offensive lineman. He went from a lightly recruited 6-foot-7, 215-pound high school senior to 320 pounds as a bulldozing senior. Gallery was a consensus all-American, won the 2003 Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman and was the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Gallery completed the amazing transition from skinny tight end to blazing the trail for future Hawkeye offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga, Riley Reiff and Brandon Scherff to be taken in the NFL Draft’s first round.
If you wonder why Ferentz counts the late Joe Moore as his coaching mentor, look no further than Sanders. It was a then-retired Moore, who was considered the best offensive line coach of his time while at Pittsburgh, who recommended that Ferentz look at a 5-foot-8 safety from Erie, Pa., that nobody else wanted. Sanders would change Iowa football. He became “The Hitman” and went from under-recruited to over-achieving. His 348 tackles from 2000 to 2003 rank No. 10 all-time at Iowa, but what Sanders did in the pros was even more impressive — winning a Super Bowl with the Colts, being named 2007 AFC Defensive Player of the Year and eventually becoming the highest-paid safety in the NFL.
“Two words: Iowa Hawkeye pride.” That quote from Roth, given to ESPN’s Kenny Mayne when he was a Miami Dolphin, essentially captures everything the defensive end was about at Iowa. He was productive, very intense and maybe a little bit crazy. Roth was highly regarded before becoming a Hawkeye, and in Iowa City he more than lived up to the hype. He starred from 2001 to 2004, recording 30 sacks along the way — the most by any player under Ferentz — and helped Iowa compile a sterling 38-12 record and two Big Ten titles in his four-year career.
Reese Morgan can count numerous recruiting finds in 16-plus years as an Iowa assistant, but perhaps none was more significant than mining Greenway, out of tiny Mount Vernon, S.D., where he played nine-man football in high school. Greenway would become the most versatile linebacker of the Ferentz era, recording 416 career tackles (No. 5 in Iowa history, with wingman Abdul Hodge ranking No. 3 at 453), earning first-team all-Big Ten twice and being chosen in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Greenway’s off-the-field character is impeccable, as evidenced by his Lead The Way foundation, and he even rescued two stranded boaters on a lake in 2014.
As much as the Bettendorf native excelled on the field (his 145 tackles as a senior in Iowa’s magical 2009 season rank No. 4 in school history), fans loved to hear from him off of it. In response to media negativity, he said, “I could beat up the majority of them, so I could care less.” (Hey now!) And on his rookie NFL contract after being chosen in the second round by the Colts, Angerer said he'd be happy to play "for Coors Light and flannels.” Angerer would finish fourth in the NFL in tackles in his second year in Indianapolis. Since retiring from football, he’s still remained a visible figure to Hawkeye fans on social media and in his inspiring support of former teammate Brett Greenwood.
Stanzi’s cult following grew even more when he told a national audience after Iowa’s 2010 Orange Bowl win on a strangely timed question about America: “If you don’t love it, leave it. USA No. 1!” Stanzi was a popular choice to replace Jake Christensen as starting quarterback, and he thrived once given the job in the middle of the 2008 season. Stanzi would assemble a 26-9 career record and ranks No. 3 all-time in passing yards at Iowa (7,377). Stanzi’s clutch passing led to the seismic 2008 upset of Penn State and the walk-off TD to Marvin McNutt at Michigan State in 2009. His ankle injury that year derailed Iowa's 9-0 start and national-title hopes. Stanzi remains the only QB to ever lead Iowa to three straight bowl wins.
* * *
Now that’s an Elite Eight.
It doesn’t even include a slew of accomplished, iconic Hawkeyes like Adrian Clayborn, Shonn Greene, Nate Kaeding and Drew Tate.
And just think, three current Hawkeyes could be near or at the top of the list if 2016 goes as well as many hope.
Jewell is a remarkable story already and has two years left. Desmond King could become Iowa’s first two-time consensus all-American since Larry Station (1984-85). And C.J. Beathard has a chance to take Iowa to back-to-back BCS bowl games.
To continue the Quintessential Hawkeye conversation, I’ll send out quarterfinal matchups in Wednesday's 9 a.m. hour on Twitter (@ChadLeistikow) for your vote: Sanders vs. Banks, Gallery vs. Angerer, Greenway vs. Roth and Clark vs. Stanzi.
Some have compared this to trying to pick your favorite child.
The good news, though? In this debate, there is no wrong answer.
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.