Drew Ott speaks about final NCAA appeal

Chad Leistikow
Drew Ott played roughly 200 snaps for Iowa in 2015, most of those at far less than full strength. A typical defensive starter played about 1,000.

Wherever he goes, whenever he’s asked about whether he’s heard anything from the NCAA about a possible fifth year of eligibility at Iowa, Drew Ott gives basically the same answer.

“Maybe today.”

He hasn't been right yet. It’s become a bit of a gag of sorts for the somewhat-goofy but overpowering-when-healthy defensive end, who spoke Tuesday night about his long wait to hear what he’s doing next.

NFL? Or one more year of college?

Ott clarified in an interview with The Des Moines Register that his initial case was denied once (and only once) by the NCAA, “a couple weeks ago.” He started the paperwork process in November.

If the case drags on much longer, Ott might have no choice but opt for the NFL Draft. He has an NFL Combine “recheck” scheduled for Friday.

“This is the final (appeal), but I’m going to have to declare here soon,” Ott said prior to a Polk County I-Club event at the Sheraton West Des Moines. “The draft’s coming up. Things have got to get moving.”

Still, he’s willing to hold out for a decision. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, at the same event Tuesday, thought a verdict was “real close." Ott’s first choice, obviously, is to return to the Hawkeyes.

“I’m invested this far. I wouldn’t want to waste all the Iowa people’s time,” he said. “They put a lot of time in this, trying to get my redshirt. It’d be silly for me not to hear out what the NCAA has to say once they give their final ruling.”

Ott’s not a patient person by nature. It’s now been six months since he tore the ACL in his right knee in an Oct. 10 game against Illinois, an injury that ended his 2015 season.

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As Ferentz delivered his most impassioned public argument yet about Ott’s case, he pointed out that Ott’s season should’ve ended four Saturdays earlier, Sept. 12 at Iowa State. That’s the cruel reality of this situation. If Ott had just gone to the sidelines for good after suffering a major left-elbow injury — one that required reconstructive Tommy John surgery — this case would be a no-doubter.

But Ott kept playing. A few snaps the next week against Pittsburgh with a large brace around his left arm; several more against North Texas; then the majority of the game Oct. 3 at Wisconsin. Then, the ACL tear. He technically played in six games, which exceeded the 30 percent games-played threshold that is the typical cutoff for approval of medical hardships.

“I’ve been doing this for a while,” Ferentz said. “I’ve sat in a lot of medical meetings — probably close to 200 in 17 years. And I can remember two occasions where a doctor said after (surgery), ‘I can’t believe that guy played.’ And Drew is one of those guys.

“That hurt his cause, quite frankly. Most people would have put their hand up and said 'I can’t do it.' That, to me, is the most compelling reason to give it to him.”

A typical defensive starter last year at Iowa played roughly 70-80 snaps a game for 14 games. Suppose we take the middle number, 75 — that’s 1,050 snaps for the season. Ott played about 200, Ferentz said (or about 19 percent of what he would have as a typical starter).

“So it’s basically (that) he played about three games,” Ferentz said. “And a lot of those snaps weren’t real high-quality snaps because he was playing hurt. He just has such a high threshold for pain tolerance.”

That’s essentially the case Iowa is making with the NCAA. Ott only played one full-strength game — the opener against Illinois State, in which he was by far the most dominant player in Kinnick Stadium in Iowa’s 31-14 win. If the NCAA doesn’t approve the fifth year, Ott will go into the April 28 NFL Draft injured and hoping to be a late-round pick at best.

“To me, it’d be a real fair resolution to give him an opportunity to have a full senior year,” Ferentz said.

Ott isn't sure whether to renew his lease at his house. Meantime, he’s rehabbing. Oh, and he’s joined Twitter.

“I got a follow from Travis Perry, so that was nice, I guess,” Ott cracked, motioning across the room to the former Hawkeye linebacker from Urbandale. “I think I’ve only posted two things.”

The elbow, he said, is basically 100 percent. As for the knee, he recently started running on it. He’s ahead of schedule.

What percentage is the knee?

Ott reverted to jokester mode — knowing that an NFL franchise who could be his employer within a month might read this.

“Oh, I mean it’s 100 percent. It’s ready to roll,” Ott said. “Heck yeah. It’s perfect.”

Even though the length of this process has become a somewhat-cruel running joke, Ott seems to be at peace with his unusual situation.

“Whatever they decide, I’ll be OK,” Ott said. “I’m ready for either one. They both have their benefits. I’m excited to take whichever one comes my way.”