Leistikow: Inside Drew Ott's latest test of patience
IOWA CITY – Drew Ott lost most of his senior football season at Iowa.
Lost his medical redshirt appeal. Three times.
One of the most powerful pass rushers of the Kirk Ferentz era lost an NFL Draft shot, too.
But Ott’s wit and dry delivery? Those, along with the ice pack taped around his right knee, remain constants.
“It’s not a bad time,” Ott says between bites of salad -- no dressing, no croutons -- and pasta with chicken after a morning workout and treatment this week. “It’s a good time to be me.”
Ott was upbeat, hopeful and hilarious in an hour-long interview with the Des Moines Register.
Nobody could blame Ott if he were instead bitter. Rather than popping pads in a college or pro training camp, circumstances have left him without a football home.
The NCAA didn’t let him come back to Iowa for a fifth season.
The NFL is passing on him until he’s refurbished.
“There’s still been a lot of (NFL) people calling,” he says, “wondering when I’m going to be healthy.”
He’s getting there. But it’s been a slow journey.
Neil Cornrich, Ott’s agent, trumpeted in April that his client received good medical news prior to the NFL Draft in his recovery from surgeries to reconstruct his left elbow and repair the torn ACL in his right leg.
But it turns out, there was a setback.
The knee wasn’t healing correctly, Ott says now in his first interview in more than four months. So, he had another knee surgery, this one arthroscopic, in May.
It was the latest blow of bad news on his football track.
Rewind to April, when the NCAA denied for the final time Ott’s redshirt case that had gotten kicked its way from the Big Ten Conference. From application to decision, that whole process dragged for 5 months.
Ott says now he remained optimistic until the night of April 12, when Ferentz broke the news after they flew home from a Polk County I-Club event.
“(Compliance) kept saying they were hearing it looks like it’s going to go through,” Ott says. “So I kept waiting.
“It was a little disheartening. It was sad. But it opened up another door of excitement.”
Behind that door was more disappointment yet. He wasn’t among the 253 players chosen in the NFL Draft.
Yet text messages poured in with congratulations as false word circulated that he had signed a free-agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Never true, he says.
“It was a little letdown,” he says in a tone that’s about as emotional as Ott gets.
He’s mostly been in Iowa City since.
It’s there he lives with five current Hawkeye players.
He’s been watching a lot of the Olympics. He likes gymnastics, power lifting and men’s volleyball.
“Those guys can really smack it,” he says. “Not big on the horse prancing. Not my favorite one. I try to find something else.”
In his personal life, he and former Iowa women’s basketball player Kali Peschel are still in the dating phase.
“Nope, not engaged yet,” he says with a grin. “Gotta get a job first.”
And he’s working on the job thing – further joking that if all else fails, his Dad’s farm in Nebraska is hiring.
Sometimes gallows humor is the best way to talk about a tough situation.
Things are trending in Ott’s favor. The May surgery, he hopes, was the final backward step on his NFL journey.
“I’ve kind of been on a good track since then,” he says.
Ott doesn't train with the team anymore. After breakfast each day (no more egg shells, he says), he spends several hours with Dave Williams at Performance Therapies in Coralville. In the afternoon, more stretching and icing.
"His whole focus has been on me," Ott says. "He doesn’t have 120 other people to worry about.”
Ott felt his knee turn a corner in early July. He’s running again.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive end says there are a lot of interested NFL parties waiting on his health. If he had never snapped his elbow Sept. 12 against Iowa State or heard his knee pop Oct. 10 against Illinois, he probably had second-round film (cue last year’s Illinois State opener) and measurements.
Ott will call his agent “when I’m feeling top speed again. When my strength’s all the way back. I think it’ll just be something I’ll know.”
Ott thinks it's a matter of weeks before he gets NFL tryouts. He could be signed anytime in the next several months. That’s the glass-half-full approach.
“I want to make sure I’m 100 percent and ready to roll,” Ott says. “I don’t want to go in hurt. There’s no benefit to that.”
As lunch comes to a close, Ott carefully extracts his knee from under the table and walks out (no limp) as patrons in rows of booth turn their heads.
Some of them surely recognized Ott in his beard and Iowa football shirt, perhaps wondering where the former Hawkeye’s journey would go next.
He’s curious, too.
His outlook: Optimism. And patience.
Ott’s learned to have both in the last 11 months.
“I think it’s going to work out for me,” he says. “I’m pretty excited about it. Pretty lucky. A lot of people don’t have this chance.”
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.