IOWA CITY, Ia. — Dalton Ferguson couldn’t stop smiling Tuesday, and it had little to do with his new role as starting right guard for the Iowa football team.
It was about a much bigger change in the Solon native’s life — new father of twin daughters. Ella and Hazel are 11 days old, but still in the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital after being born five weeks premature.
Ferguson was planning on making his daily visit to bond with his girls after conducting a long round of media interviews Tuesday morning.
“I’ll be able to hold them and watch TV and sing songs to them,” Ferguson said, flashing a weary grin common to new parents.
Ferguson’s girlfriend, Rachael, gave birth to the twins in the early morning of Sept. 7. She has spent two game days in the hospital overlooking Kinnick Stadium, watching as Ferguson participated in a particularly emotional “wave” after the first quarter of each.
“It was awesome, especially knowing that they’re in the hands of some of the best nurses in the state and maybe the nation,” Ferguson said of Saturday’s wave, which came in a 38-14 Hawkeye win over Northern Iowa, a game he started at right guard for the injured Cole Banwart.
Ferguson said he was operating on 2 ½ hours of sleep for the Sept. 8 win over Iowa State. That was Day 2 as a father, and he had a few things to learn about time management, he conceded.
“There was a lot coming at me really fast. I just have a better plan now,” he said.
Ferguson, a senior, is six credits away from graduation. That keeps his class load a little lighter, which is good since he’s spending much of his time away from football in the hospital these days.
He was happy to report that his daughters are doing well.
And he was happy to talk about the new perspective he now brings to his sport.
“I always lived in the moment,” Ferguson said. “I always enjoyed playing football, but now knowing I have kids once football is done, I can go harder and I can play the game a lot more effectively and efficiently. Because time’s running out.
“My high school coach (Kevin Miller) always said, ‘The train’s rolling and it’s not going to stop.’ So once it’s over, it’s over.”
Before it's over, Ferguson can say he's played all three positions on the Hawkeye line. He started at tackle in the season opener vs. Northern Illinois. Late in Saturday's game, he took snaps at center.
Ferguson came to Iowa as a walk-on but was placed on scholarship a month ago. His playing career has been curtailed by a pair of significant injuries, most recently a torn ACL. He’s not sure if an NFL future is in the cards.
At least not on the field. Ferguson’s long-range plan is to be a player development director for a college team, a role Broderick Binns currently serves at Iowa.
“I just enjoy helping people,” Ferguson said. “I know that sounds cliché.”
Ferguson has developed an online friendship with the player development director at Wisconsin. That’s the power of LinkedIn. They won’t be talking this week, however. Iowa hosts the No. 16 Badgers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Dalton has been a great kid since he got in the program. Worked hard. Quietly goes about his business,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Everything that comes his way, he handles it level-headedly and steady.”
Ferguson is an education major. He spent the summer working at a day-care center in Iowa City. This may have been good preparation for fatherhood, but Ferguson said that wasn’t his motive. He worked with the preschoolers, 20 children ages 4 and 5.
“Being able to shape and mold kids and even teenagers and college people’s lives and point them in the right direction, it just appeals to me,” Ferguson said.
But first, Ferguson must make sure his offensive line is pointed in the right direction Saturday. The Badgers are coming off a 24-21 home loss to BYU, but have led the nation the past four seasons by allowing only 13.9 points per road game.
Levi Paulsen, who split guard duty with Ferguson on Saturday, said the Hawkeye line is being extra diligent this week. It’s a tight-knit group, he said. They’re taking care of the new father in their midst. Senior center Keegan Render was seen hanging around after interviews Tuesday to share a ride with Ferguson, who was very popular with reporters.
“I feel like we do a really good job of picking each other up and giving them a little jolt if they need a jolt, if they’re tired or something,” said Levi Paulsen, who is himself a twin brother to fellow lineman Landan Paulsen. “We’re always there for each other. It’s not like it’s butt heads, be competitive and try to beat somebody else out for a spot. We’re trying to do what is best for the team at all times.”
These days, that includes making sure Ferguson gets a little sleep from time to time.