Brown: Weisman's walk-on dream nears finish line
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Mark Weisman's humble, soft-spoken personality runs counter to the power football he's played at Iowa for nearly three seasons.
He arrived as a walk-on chasing an opportunity, not promises. And now, 2,510 thigh-churning yards and 30 rushing touchdowns later, it's time to say goodbye. Weisman will be one of 16 seniors honored before Friday's game with Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium.
Sixteen unique stories. But Weisman's might be the most remarkable, a guy who has made the most of his ability while restoring my faith in college athletics every time I talk to him. No flash. No Johnny Football. Just football, plain and simple.
"Just an unbelievably great young man," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Extremely quiet, extremely humble. But I don't know if we've had anybody work any harder and just do things right any better than he has."
The best compliment I can give Weisman is this: He is a football player, an old-school throwback who doesn't take a play off.
"It's been a great ride," Weisman said. "Just the best time of my life, reaching some of my goals here. It's unbelievable what Iowa has given me, as a school, and this football program."
Iowa had recruited Weisman as a preferred walk-on out of Stevenson High School in suburban Chicago. But he accepted his only offer, from the Air Force. A semester later, he started looking for a new home.
He was attracted to Iowa for several reasons. One, he had a brother and cousins who had attended school here. Second, he loved Iowa football and what it represented.
"Just the tough mindset, the tradition of Iowa football," Weisman said. "Hard-nosed football."
Getting anyone to notice wasn't so easy. His coach at Stevenson, Drake grad Bill Mitz, had some connections to the Iowa staff and made a call. And the rest, as they say, is history.
"He just kind of fell in our lap," Ferentz said.
A feel-good story that strayed from the blueprint.
"I came here to try and help the team in any way possible," he said.
Special teams. Fullback. Anywhere ... but running back.
"I didn't really envision myself as being a running back," Weisman said. "I don't think anyone did. But crazy things happen. I got put in that role and I've tried to run with it ever since."
A series of injuries in the third game of the 2012 season, against Northern Iowa, made Weisman the next-best option at running back He's played there ever since. He doesn't have the speed or burst of many backs, which has left him a bit envious when he's not been able to go the distance on a perfectly blocked play.
"I have to make the most of what I have … run a guy over, stiff-arm a guy, try to get a couple of extra yards that way," Weisman said.
Ferentz has had several players go from walk-ons to the NFL. Dallas Clark, Bruce Nelson, Derek Pagel, Sean Considine. Ferentz predicts Weisman, a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy that goes to the nation's outstanding football player who started his career as a walk-on, will join that list.
"He's a hugely skilled fullback, in my mind," Ferentz said. "He's a pretty good running back. But as a fullback he's a really unique talent that way."
And there are 32 fullback jobs in the NFL. There's probably not 32 college teams that use a fullback. So Weisman's odds improve at the next level.
Ferentz said the first time Iowa coaches saw Weisman in pads, during spring practice in 2012, they figured they had a pretty good fullback on their hands.
"There was no way to forecast what was going to take place," Ferentz said.
This story took a detour, and left a lasting impression. One powerful, leg-churning yard at a time.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.