Hesse steps in for Ott as Iowa defense marches on

Rick Brown
Parker Hesse will make second career start at Northwestern on Saturday.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Parker Hesse was switched from linebacker to defensive end in December, during Iowa’s practices leading up to the TaxSlayer Bowl.

The former all-stater from Waukon figured he’d spend his redshirt freshman season learning the nuances of his new position while playing behind senior standout Drew Ott. Fate, unfortunately, had a different plan. First, Ott injured his elbow at Iowa State. Then he was lost for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee last week against Illinois.

“No one would have predicted that I’d have so much playing time this early in the season,” said Hesse, who will start at right defensive end when the 17th-ranked and undefeated Hawkeyes meet No. 20 Northwestern Saturday in Evanston, Ill. “That’s why at any moment, the next guy has got to be ready.”

That next guy is Hesse, but replacing Ott will be a team venture.

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“If anyone deserved to be on the field, it was Drew,” Hesse said. “This is what he’s meant to do. It’s not on me or anyone else to fill everything he brought. It’s the entire defense. We’re losing a lot with him.” Hesse follows a recruiting blueprint that has been used a lot in Kirk Ferentz’s 17 seasons as Iowa coach. A lightly recruited prospect, Hesse’s only other offers as a senior at Waukon came from FCS schools North Dakota, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

He played quarterback as a senior at Waukon, as well as strong safety and outside linebacker on defense.

“It depended on the game plan,” Hesse said.

His favorite position, though, was quarterback.

“Carrying and handling the ball was really fun,” said Hesse, who passed for 1,439 yards and ran for 1,273 for a state runner-up team as a senior.

Now he’ll be trying to sack Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson on Saturday.

“The flip-side of things,” Hesse said.

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Iowa offered Hesse late in the fall of his senior season.

“I was recruited to play outside linebacker,” Hesse said. “But they mentioned at times I was a guy who had the potential to go someplace else.”

Ott injured his elbow in the first quarter at Iowa State, getting caught in a scrum chasing a fumble.

“Drew is coming out, now it’s your turn,” Hesse recalls hearing. “You practiced all week. This is why.”

Hesse made his first and only career start the following week against Pittsburgh.

“We beat a very good Pittsburgh team with him playing every snap,” Ferentz said. “He’s worked hard. I’m glad we made the move back in December. I think every snap is certainly important but he’s coming along, doing a good job.”

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Hesse, who has 15 tackles including a sack on the season, won’t be trying to be Ott II. A speech to the team by last week’s honorary captain, Colin Cole, put Hesse’s role in perspective.

“He talked to us about just being one-11th of the team,” Hesse said. “Everyone on the field has a job to do, and you have your one-11th. Drew was a tremendous player. He often went beyond his one-11th. My job is just to be one of 11 guys on the field.”