Iowa's sophomore middle linebacker has gotten attention from Stanford's offense.
LOS ANGELES — Just about a year ago, Josey Jewell was trying to emerge as a contributor for the Iowa football team.
Now he’s become a focal point of "The Granddaddy of them All."
During Monday’s Rose Bowl interviews, Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren was asked if any Hawkeye stood out during game preparations. He didn’t hesitate in answering.
“That middle linebacker, No. 43, is pretty good,” Bloomgren said. ”He's all over the place.”
Certainly there are a lot of people in Iowa that agree with that assessment, including another Hawkeye who wore No. 43 — former first-team all-American Pat Angerer.
During the Big Ten Conference championship game Dec. 5, in which Jewell intercepted Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and recorded eight of his 119 season tackles, Angerer tweeted: “Best 43 in Iowa history #TheOutlaw” — the hashtag ending a reference to Jewell’s nickname.
"The Outlaw" doesn’t agree with Angerer’s assessment, even if Jewell has emerged as almost a revered figure to represent the 2015 Hawkeyes’ 12-1 resurgence.
“He’s lying,” said Jewell, a second-team all-Big Ten Conference pick by the media and coaches. “He’s the best one so far.”
Maybe, but Jewell is on the fast track. After recording 14 tackles in the TaxSlayer Bowl as one of the only Hawkeye bright spots in that ugly Jan. 2 loss to Tennessee, Jewell was named the starting middle linebacker for the 2015 season. And the redshirt sophomore has been making plays ever since with a fearless, fast approach.
“Just really impressed with how he never gives up on a play,” Bloomgren said about what he noticed, “and how many plays he's able to make from whatever position he starts.”
That closing speed? Jewell honestly can’t explain where it comes from; nor could any recruiting analysts who just a few years ago gave him two stars after he chose Iowa over Northern Iowa.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Decorah native ran track in high school, but for some reason he feels quicker running on grass and wearing pads.
“It feels faster for me on the football field,” Jewell said, “seeing reads and then sprinting to that position or sprinting to that play.
“I've never been that fast of a guy, but I've grown here the last couple of years here in my strength and agility.”
Jewell’s gruff appearance resembles a guy that could step right in as an extra for any Western being filmed in nearby Hollywood. That’s tied into how he got his name, actually. His father, Bobby, was a fan of “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” a 1970s Clint Eastwood movie.
The Outlaw has stuck — as a nickname and as a player. And in the Rose Bowl, a first-year middle linebacker will be the one trying to make a difference against a methodical Stanford offense, led by a fourth-year quarterback in Kevin Hogan that will be trying to find any mistake the Hawkeyes make.
It’s Jewell’s responsibility to make the defensive calls. To make the right calls, he has to know every one of Stanford’s tendencies out of well over 50 possible formations.
“The coaches are putting us in positions,” Jewell said, “and we’re just reading everything from there.”
He’s seen as a leader off the field, too, as the only sophomore in the 15-member Leadership Group, which helps form team decisions.
“With those kind of things, I try to stay quiet. I let (the older guys) talk,” Jewell said. “They've been here the longest and they understand everything. I'm just trying to follow in their footsteps, you know, learn from them and their experiences how to become a better person and better football player.”
He’s certainly rekindling memories of Angerer, a Bettendorf native who assembled an astonishing 145 tackles during Iowa’s 11-2 season in 2009 and was a second-round draft pick by the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
“I try to focus on doing my job and putting everybody in their position,” Jewell said of the comparison to Angerer. “So I don't know if we do similar things or not. That would be fine for me if we did.”
Iowa practiced Monday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.