Ferentz, outgoing Hawkeyes relish senior moments

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Kirk Ferentz arrived at the Sheraton Hotel in West Des Moines, where five of his outgoing seniors were about to be honored at Tuesday's Polk County I-Club event.

“All good stories,” Ferentz said.

Kirk Ferentz began his 19th offseason as Iowa football coach with this spring's I-Club circuit at the Sheraton in West Des Moines.

In town were Riley McCarron, the former walk-on from Dubuque who became his team’s top receiver in his fifth year; Anthony Gair, the career backup safety who was pressed into duty and played big in Iowa’s biggest win of the year, vs. Michigan; and LeShun Daniels Jr., the running back who battled injuries for three years before topping the 1,000-yard mark as a senior.

Absent were C.J. Beathard, once the subject of transfer rumors who would go on to win 21 games as the team's starting quarterback; and Cole Croston, who went from walk-on to Iowa’s most-relied-upon tackle during the 12-0 regular season of 2015.

The 19th-year head Hawkeye had one more good story to add as he reflected on the four- and five-year journeys his players had completed.

“Also, you think about guys like Ryan Ward,” Ferentz said of a highly recruited offensive lineman who wasn’t able to crack the lineup in his five years. “Never played a lot of meaningful snaps, but what a great young man; what a great representative he’s been; what a great attitude. Nobody practiced any harder in December than he did, knowing chances are he wasn’t going to play in the Outback Bowl.”

When the NFL Draft gets set to kick off this week, Iowa will be well-represented — likely with four players taken in Beathard, Jaleel Johnson, George Kittle and Desmond King. All are seniors.

At Iowa, early entries into the NFL Draft are few and far between.

By comparison, Big Ten Conference counterpart Ohio State has had 15 in the past two years.

To Daniels, an Ohio native, that stat reflects how even the best Iowa players aren't quick to relinquish the Hawkeye uniform.

Projected high-round picks Brandon Scherff and Desmond King returned for their senior years the past two offseasons.

“It shows how great this program is,” Daniels said. “Desmond could’ve left last year (after winning the Jim Thorpe Award) and could’ve been a top-15 pick. And, obviously, he decided to come back.

“It means a lot to all those guys to finish it out.”

It’s not easy to finish. And for Hawkeyes who have played their last game, it’s bittersweet.

The same applies to Ferentz, who spoke of the joy of seeing “a guy in our program to make it to the front of the room — to be a senior — (knowing) all the things they have to do.”

But for both the head coach and players, it goes too fast.

“It’s like your kids at home,” Ferentz, 61, said. “You can never get enough one-on-one time with the players.”

Tuesday’s I-Club event, with an expected attendance of 600, was a reminder that college football years are not only precious but provide precious memories.

“We’ll always have Iowa City as our second home,” McCarron said.”It won’t be the last time we see everyone. That’s the cool thing: We’ll always be Hawkeyes.”

Quick hits

Reserve linebacker Jacob Sobotka has a torn ACL. Ferentz said the junior walk-on injured it during the final week of spring practice. That’s three players with torn ACLs this spring for Iowa — starting free safety Brandon Snyder and backup offensive lineman Dalton Ferguson were the others. “That’s a really high number; kind of reminiscent of ’04,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz said he’ll wait until after the spring semester to evaluate suspended wide receiver Jerminic Smith’s future in the program. Smith was removed from the team to focus on his academics. “Put the rhetoric aside and let’s see what really happened,” Ferentz said.

No news yet on how many night games Iowa will play this season. The Hawkeyes have hosted two each of the past two years (Pittsburgh, Minnesota in 2015; Iowa State, Michigan in 2016). “Hopefully, we’ll have at least one in Kinnick,” Ferentz said.

Polk County I-Club awards

Bud Flood Award (overcoming adversity): Cole Croston, Anthony Gair (co-winners).

John Nocera Award (leadership): C.J. Beathard, LeShun Daniels Jr. (co-winners).

Coaches Appreciation: Riley McCarron.

Polk County I-Club Member of the Year: Brad Winterbottom.