Canzeri's Iowa career marked with faith, perseverance

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Twenty-one Iowa football seniors will be honored before Saturday’s 11 a.m. home finale against Purdue. There are some great stories to tell within that group.

There’s Darian Cooper, the defensive tackle who kept fighting uphill after a serious knee injury. Adam Cox and Macon Plewa are the under-appreciated but punishing fullbacks. Linebacker Cole Fisher, silent for four years, has become Iowa’s second-leading tackler in his fifth. Defensive end Drew Ott, whose all-Big Ten season ended Oct. 10 with a no-contact ACL injury, remains a vocal co-captain in street clothes.

And then there’s Jordan Canzeri.

The 5-foot-9, 192-pound running back’s five-year career has been an annual mix of ups and downs.

9,000 tickets left for unbeaten Iowa's Senior Day finale

Jordan Canzeri celebrates one of his four touchdown runs against North Texas on Sept. 26. Despite missing two games and getting limited carries in three others, he's still the Hawkeyes' leader in rushing yards.

After a true-freshman year that ended with 28 touches for 86 yards in the 2011 Insight Bowl, Canzeri blew out his knee in spring practice and missed the 2012 season. He’s battled back and had terrific games – including a 20-carry, 165-yard showing at Purdue in 2013 – but has never made it through a whole season healthy. Even though Canzeri played a lot in 2014, coach Kirk Ferentz admitted he was “never right” health-wise.

“You’re human, so doubts come in all the time,” Canzeri said. “It’s how you focus, what you want to focus on.”

The ultimate up-then-down came in October. A week after rushing for 256 yards on a school-record 43 carries against Illinois, he suffered a gruesome-looking ankle injury early at Northwestern. He emerged from the locker room, cheering on his teammates wearing full pads, jersey and a walking boot.

While he missed an additional two games with a high-ankle sprain, he got a workout on the sidelines – with fellow running back Akrum Wadley saying after a 31-15 win against Maryland that Canzeri was helping him clean his helmet visor.

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Jordan Canzeri, center, is surrounded by teammates (clockwise from left) Austin Blythe, Landan Paulsen, George Kittle, Levi Paulsen and Tevaun Smith during a special pep rally for Kid Captain Lincoln Ortman of North Liberty, at North Bend Elementary, on Nov. 5.

Canzeri's faith has kept him positive through the personal storms. He’s vocal about Christianity, yet his actions speak louder than his words.

“My joy comes from helping others in a lot of areas,” Canzeri said. “Obviously, I’m not perfect. I get mad at people and still mess up. But areas like (being injured), my circumstance is I’m hurt right now, I’m not playing. So it’s up to me to be positive in that time and do whatever I can to help those guys.”

Canzeri is involved with Athletes in Action, an on-campus Christian ministry, and is a frequent visitor to the UI Children’s Hospital and local VA Hospital. He also is involved as a volunteer with Camp Courageous, the Dance Marathon, the Ladies Football Academy (which has donated $1.25 million to the Children’s Hospital over the last five years) and the Hawkeye Readers Program – which involves visiting and reading to elementary school children.

“Jordan is an outstanding young person,” Ferentz said, “a great leader.”

Canzeri’s character was shaped through his parents. His mom, Regina, suffers from the auto-immune disease Lupus. Canzeri has watched her have to take “extreme” dosages of medication, yet she always maintained a message of keeping the faith to her son. Canzeri praised his dad, Brian, for being there for the family and driving Regina to games from New York.

Another relative reinforced why Canzeri is grateful for everything he’s been able to experience (even the lows) at Iowa.

“I have a cousin who’s in the military and he went to some countries that compared to here, you have to just be completely grateful for what you have,” Canzeri said. “The one thing he said, it’s just remarkable how happy these people are with how little they have.

“That just moves me and stays with me, because when I get hurt here, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, this sucks.’ You just look around and I’m sitting in Kinnick Stadium wearing a Hawkeye jersey and playing for a great team. … It’s just something that you have to feel so thankful for.”

Saturday’s Senior Day will be special for Canzeri. Mom and Dad are expected to be there. And his ankle feels really good, he said, for the first time since his latest injury. Teammate LeShun Daniels Jr., who rushed for 195 yards last week against Minnesota, said he’d gladly yield carries to Canzeri if that meant his good friend would enjoy a big day and the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes improved to 11-0.

“For him to go out on Saturday with a victory would really mean a lot to him,” Daniels said.

Canzeri, of course, is keeping it all in perspective. He said Saturday will be emotional, but more than that, he wants to leave behind a positive legacy and put the program in a better place than when he arrived as a lightly recruited freshman in 2011.

“I’m going to remember every single season,” said Canzeri, who remains Iowa’s leading rusher for the season with 729 yards (and 1,818 for his career despite missing 23 games). “I’ve had great games I’ll remember, but it’s definitely the relationships that you have in this program.

“A big thing we talk about is leaving the jersey in a better place. That’s just what I hope that I’m doing.”

Safe to say, that's already done.


Matchup: Iowa (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) vs. Purdue (2-8, 1-5)

When, where: 11 a.m. Saturday, Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City

TV: ESPN2 (Announcers: Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht)

The line: Iowa is favored by 22½

Forecast: 50 percent chance of morning snow, NNW winds at 20-30 mph, high of 28 degrees.

Security measures: Due to recent international incidents, Iowa is moving to a “clear-bag” policy at Kinnick Stadium. No purses, backpacks or handbags will be allowed. More details can be found here.

Iowa’s 21 seniors to be honored before the game: OL Austin Blythe, RB Jordan Canzeri, DL Darian Cooper, FB Adam Cox, DB Sean Draper, TE Jake Duzey, LB Cole Fisher, WR Jacob Hillyer, P Dillon Kidd, K Marshall Koehn, TE Henry Krieger Coble, DB Jordan Lomax, DE Nate Meier, DE Drew Ott, LB Travis Perry, FB Macon Plewa, OL Eric Simmons, WR Tevaun Smith, DE Melvin Spears, WR Andrew Stone, OL Jordan Walsh.