The book that helped shape Hawkeyes' football culture change

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — You say you wanted a revolution, Hawkeye fans?

Well, you got one. Change in the Iowa football program began in January, and one of the first focal points was based in a pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword philosophy.

“Revolutions start with language,” longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle said, “and I think it started in the locker room.”

A personal development book called "The Slight Edge" became a reading assignment shortly after Iowa’s 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The thrust of the book is executing daily disciplines to achieve long-term success, a fitting parallel to the “Break the Rock” rallying cry Kirk Ferentz instilled upon becoming Iowa’s head coach after the 1998 season.

George Kittle returns to his roots at Wisconsin

But with the raw disappointment of 7-6 and the way that it happened, players were hungry to consume a new approach to a familiar message.

Credit the team’s Leadership Group — composed of 13 seniors, two juniors and one sophomore as voted on by players — for not only executing the post-TaxSlayer homework but for spreading the message upon returning to campus for the spring semester.

“After that bowl game, we didn’t like how we felt,” fifth-year senior Macon Plewa said. “We said we’re going to commit to a different philosophy, and that’s what 'The Slight Edge' was.”

Team leaders, mostly seniors, each took a lesson or two from "The Slight Edge" and gave a presentation to their teammates. These occurred weekly, usually after a weight-room workout, all the way through spring drills. The team reviewed the material in fall camp.

“That was what made it special, the team ownership,” Doyle said. “When you stand up in front of your teammates … you have ownership of that, and now you have the obligation to follow through.”

Plewa, the starting fullback, debunked TV commercials that promise to get you ripped in 10 days in his presentation about “Don’t Fall for Quantum Leap”.

Jordan Canzeri, the team’s leading rusher through four games, presented on the concept of the cost of waiting. That’s why a renewed approach was started in January, not spring ball.

“You can’t say, ‘Tomorrow I’ll start doing this,’“ Canzeri said. “You have to decide now, or it’s going to be too late. There is no someday.”

Linebacker Cole Fisher, the team’s leading tackler, was charged with a concept fitting for a program that wears “ANF” decals (America Needs Farmers) on its helmets — plant, cultivate and harvest.

“Everyone’s fine with planting — like getting the idea, ‘Hey, I’m going to lose weight.’ And then everyone likes to harvest the results from it,” Fisher said. “But people don’t like to cultivate, which is putting in the work.”

The harvest is starting to come in after a spring filled with weight-room records, and early signs point to a bumper crop. Iowa has produced a 4-0 record entering Saturday’s Big Ten Conference opener at No. 19 Wisconsin.

A catalyst in the early-season success has been quarterback C.J. Beathard. The junior is part of the leadership group, and his presentation to teammates was about attitude and seizing opportunities. He told a story about two men with the same opportunities, akin to how the Hawkeyes would choose to respond to the unraveling of 2014. Person A, he said, “can blow it off," and Person B "can work and work and work and bring other people with him and end up being successful.”

That’s a key point: bringing others along. Canzeri said younger players responded well to the veterans' substance. One of those guys listening to the presentations was junior backup tackle Cole Croston. The presentations helped reinforce him to be disciplined in every phase of his life, such as getting 8 hours of sleep a night. It's up to the players to keep each other accountable.

“The little things you can do every day — eating right, sleeping right, working hard in practice,” Croston said. “The little things, they all add up and accumulate.”

Hawkeyes ready to take fearless approach to Wisconsin

Over the past eight-plus months, a lot has been written about Hawkeye football togetherness. Beathard and others have spoken openly about this team having better player leadership than in 2014. Part of that culture shift has been attributed to the Jan. 8 depth chart appointing Beathard as starting quarterback. Part of it also has come from the opening of the Iowa Football Performance Center, which allows players to eat, train and relax together. Players gained, on average, nearly six pounds of weight during winter lifting.

A coincidence?

“Honestly, we had one of the better offseasons we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Fisher said. “And I think (the book) was a big part of it.”

The book's introduction in January served as a drawn line in the sand.

“Either get in, or get out,” Plewa said. “That’s kind of how we committed to it.”

It’s way too early to crown the Hawkeyes champions of anything on the field. But there’s no disputing they're carrying a unified approach, not to mention a perfect record, into Big Ten play by stressing the fundamentals.

"The Slight Edge" emphasizes that there are no shortcuts. Here’s a nutshell excerpt from author Jeff Olson:

The successful and unsuccessful both do the same basic things in their lives, day in and day out. Yet the things successful people do take them to the top, while the things unsuccessful people do take them down and out. So what’s the difference? The difference is their awareness, understanding and use of the Slight Edge in their life and work. Successful winners understand the Slight Edge. Unsuccessful people do not.

That’s why this had to start in January, when players were ready to receive a new (but familiar) approach.

“Smart people don’t play the lottery. You work hard over time, and over time you’re rewarded for it,” Doyle said. “That’s kind of the thought process. What’s uncomfortable early becomes comfortable later. … If you want to stay in your comfort zone, eventually you’ll be uncomfortable. Eventually, you’ll have a bad result.

“This isn’t a new concept for Iowa football. It’s just maybe a bit of different framework. And maybe that book was good timing.”


The 16 players who were voted into the group by their teammates. The Leadership Group helps make team decisions and formulate policies:

Seniors (13): C Austin Blythe, RB Jordan Canzeri, DL Darian Cooper, FB Adam Cox, TE Jake Duzey, WR Jacob Hillyer, PK Marshall Koehn, FS Jordan Lomax, DE Nate Meier, DE Drew Ott, LB Travis Perry, FB Macon Plewa, WR Tevaun Smith.

Juniors (2): QB C.J. Beathard, RB LeShun Daniels Jr.

Sophomore (1): LB Josey Jewell.


Who: Iowa at No. 19 Wisconsin

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN

The line: Wisconsin by 6.5