Leistikow: Hawkeye football seniors relish chance to go 4-for-4 against Iowa State

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Parker Hesse didn’t think he would play a prominent role in the 2015 Cy-Hawk football game … until he saw Drew Ott’s left elbow bent in a direction it’s not supposed to bend.

Ott, then a senior who was Iowa’s game-changing defensive end, was out.

Hesse, then a freshman backup, was in.

“Coach (Reese) Morgan just looked at me and said, ‘You’re in,’” Hesse recalled Tuesday. “I just ran out there and I’m like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll just do what I’m told to do now.'"

In 2015, Iowa players (including Drew Ott, arm in sling) reclaimed the Cy-Hawk Trophy with a 31-17 win in Ames. The Hawkeyes haven't lost to Iowa State since, and are going for their first four-game win streak in the series of the Kirk Ferentz era.

Hesse gave it all he had that day. He probably went the wrong way a few times and made mistakes. But he played a part in a resilient Hawkeye performance, in which the defense pitched a second-half shutout and the offense broke a 17-all tie with two touchdowns in the final minutes.

It was a clutch Week 2 win in what became a 12-0 regular season.

Three years later, Hesse is a mature, 23-year-old, fifth-year senior — and the perfect Hawkeye to frame in this year’s Fox-televised Iowa-Iowa State matchup, which kicks off at 4:05 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

More Cy-Hawk coverage from Tuesday:

Hesse has 35 career starts, by far the most of any current Hawkeye.

He is a native Iowan — one of 59 on the roster.

And he wants to be part of something that’s never happened in the Kirk Ferentz era: a four-game winning streak against the Cyclones.

That’s something that senior center Keegan Render (an Indianola native with 21 career starts) and Hesse were discussing Tuesday ahead of their final Cy-Hawk showdown while they sat in their respective cold tubs following practice.

“Going 4-0 against these guys in our years of eligibility would be a big deal to us Iowa guys,” Render said. “It’s a big rivalry. It’s something you can talk about and something you’re just proud of.”

As with anyone who has to return to his Iowa hometown, this game carries long-lasting meaning.

Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse (40) is entering his fourth Cy-Hawk game and is coming off a two-sack performance against Northern Illinois.

“You kind of inherently know the significance of this game to the state, to both teams’ fan bases,” Hesse said. “It’s something you’re going to have to hear about all year, win, lose or draw.

“Coming from Iowa, you understand the importance of it.”

So, forget about the old narrative — the one that Ferentz again referred to as “highly insulting” Tuesday — that the Hawkeye side doesn’t care as much about this rivalry as the Cyclone side.

In fact, when you crunch the roster numbers, you could make an argument that there’s more personally at stake in Saturday’s sold-out game for the guys wearing black and gold.

Fifty percent (59 of 119) of the Hawkeye roster is from the state of Iowa, compared with 35 percent (44 of 125) for Iowa State.

Twelve of Iowa's 22 starters hail from this state, including its entire defensive line.

Iowa State has four starting Iowans; none on a defense that counts three from Texas, two from California, two from Florida and one each from Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington, D.C.

“There’s a little added incentive,” said fifth-year senior safety Jake Gervase, from Davenport.

It should also be noted that there are three former Hawkeye players on this coaching staff — Kelvin Bell, Brian Ferentz and LeVar Woods — who have long felt the emotions and intensity that this rivalry brings.

“The game means a lot for us,” Kirk Ferentz reiterated in his opening remarks Tuesday. “It means a lot for all of our team, I think especially for our guys from Iowa.”

So it's not even an argument that this matchup holds extra significance to everyone involved with the Hawkeye program.

Iowa players were cautious with their words Tuesday, not wanting to be responsible for providing bulletin-board material that could get back to Ames.

This isn't "just" one of 12 games.

“The tension’s there," said Chariton product T.J. Hockenson, a tight end in his third year in the program. "It holds a special place in my heart just because I’m from here. And explaining that to the younger guys, I think they get it after their first play."

If Iowa can win Saturday, it will have its first four-game winning streak in this series since it won 15 in a row from 1983 to 1997 under Hayden Fry.

Ferentz is 10-9 against the Cyclones. He has twice won three in a row in this series, but never four.

During Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference, Ferentz referenced in-house changes that were made following the disappointing 7-6 season of 2014. A point of emphasis out of that program reboot was special importance on "trophy" games — the ones against Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska ... and Iowa State.

The Hawkeyes are 10-2 in trophy games (and 29-12 overall) since, including 3-0 against Iowa State.

In 2015, Iowa players marched arm-in-arm over to the Cyclone sideline to reclaim the Cy-Hawk Trophy they lost in 2014.

Hesse was the eyes-wide-open rookie then.

Now, he's the battle-tested veteran who understands the opportunity he and his seniors have to go 4-for-4 against the Cyclones.

“Trophy games are the epitome of playing football," Hesse said. "You train year-round, you practice all week for that one moment after the game of saying, ‘We did it.’ All those days, all those weeks added up for this moment.

"In trophy games, you really get to express that, going over there and hoisting that trophy up. That’s what makes them really special."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.