Free-spirit Ott ready to make headlines on the field

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Drew Ott has always been kind of a free-spirited novelty act at Iowa.

Whether it was the mullet and bushy beard he once sported or his moped adventures, he's earned more headlines for that than his play on the field.

"Not your average bear," Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz once said.

But this Nebraska farm kid and child of eight-man football heads into his senior season with a good share of preseason publicity for his ability as a starting defensive end for the Hawkeyes.

"That's been nice, I guess," Ott said Thursday. "I'm not just known as the moped man."

In May of 2013, Ott got on his moped for the 400-mile journey from campus to his hometown of Trumbull, Neb. The six-hour drive took twice that long on his moped. It's a story he can't escape.

"Usually, if someone meets me, they usually ask how long it took," Ott said.

Then, there was last fall. On the same day he was named Big Ten defensive player of the week for his 13-tackle effort two days earlier against Ball State, Ott was on his moped when he got hit by a Buick on Benton Street. Luckily, he walked away.

It's easy to see why "Ott" and "moped" are often used in the same sentence. But his play on the field deserves some talk, too. Ott was fifth in the Big Ten last season with eight sacks. He also had a team-high 12 tackles for loss of yards.

A second-team all-Big Ten pick by the media, he's far from satisfied.

"I had a rough end to the season," Ott said. "I wasn't producing as good as I needed to be. I slouched off there at the end. Good motivation going into this season."

Ott's self-described performance mirrored his team. The Hawkeyes lost a game they never should have, to Nebraska in overtime in the final home game at Kinnick Stadium.

"It's not the best memory," Ott said.

That was followed by a humbling 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Ott said this team is closer than last season's team was, and the chemistry is better.

"We just have to focus on the details so we can build an edge during the season," Ott said. "Just keep working and finish strong this year. We fell off last year as a team."

Doing the little things right, Ott said, can produce big-picture rewards.

"That's what bit us in the butt last year," he said.

Ott is not afraid to tell you what he thinks. Remember this spring when quarterback Jake Rudock announced he'd finish his career at Michigan after Ferentz named C.J. Beathard the starter?

"I thought he had a little more fight in him than that," Ott said then.

That candor comes easy for a guy who learned work ethic on the family farm he plans to return to when his football career ends.

"I'm not very good at lying," Ott said. "Saying the truth is a lot easier."

He was lifting weights one morning at his high school when Reese Morgan, Iowa's defensive line coach, walked in looking for him.

"That's how I got introduced to Iowa,"Ott said.

Ott camped at Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas State in the summer before his senior season. The Cornhuskers didn't have a scholarship to offer. Iowa did.

And now he's expected to be the leader of the Hawkeyes' defense in 2015.

"I would never go back and do it over again," Ott said. "Iowa's been a perfect fit for me, and crucial to my development. I'm happy it worked out this way."

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter:@ByRickBrown.