Mark Kallenberger works to master a fourth position on Iowa Hawkeye offensive line
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Mark Kallenberger’s Iowa Hawkeye football uniform might as well include a utility belt.
Fans have seen the junior from Bettendorf lined up at left offensive tackle, right guard, left guard and now right tackle in his three seasons — always on call whenever an injury or player suspension alters the plans of coach Kirk Ferentz.
Has it been easy for the 6-foot-5, 290-pound emerging team leader? Far from it. But it’s clearly been rewarding for Kallenberger, who said he has found a confidence in himself that he didn’t previously possess. And he's impressed his coaches in the process.
Kallenberger will be Iowa’s starting right tackle again Friday in a 6 p.m. rivalry game at Minnesota on FS1. Both teams are 1-2 and looking to find some traction in the Big Ten West.
Kallenberger’s focus will be keeping his traction while tangling with the likes of Gophers junior defensive end Esezi Otomewo, who is 6-6, 285 and has been limited to a single sack this season. Minnesota is giving up 481 yards per game, and Kallenberger knows there’s opportunity for his Hawkeye offense to build on its breakout game Saturday in a 49-7 win against Michigan State.
Kallenberger got his first start at right tackle in that one, filling in for the injured Coy Cronk.
Ferentz was encouraged by what he saw.
“He did a really nice job the other day stepping in,” Ferentz said of Kallenberger. “Some guys have that ability; some don't. We've moved him around basically everywhere but center. It doesn't seem to affect him an awful lot. I thought he did a good job last week of getting ready, took advantage of every day in practice, and went out and played a good game, and we look forward for more of the same this week.”
Ferentz said Kallenberger’s role on Iowa’s offensive line remains unsettled. He might end up playing either guard spot or flipping over to left tackle, depending on the needs of the moment.
But this is nothing new for Kallenberger. He redshirted in 2017 and was thrust into action at left tackle in the 2018 opener, when he had to contend with Northern Illinois star Sutton Smith. Starting tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson were both suspended for that Hawkeye victory.
Kallenberger came away from the game sorry about the two occasions in which he felt he was responsible for quarterback Nate Stanley getting hit. But he also wore a big smile afterward, knowing that he’d learned a great deal about what it takes to compete at the major-college level.
Kallenberger made a few more appearances in 2018, but was not a big part of the team’s plans yet. Offensive line coach Tim Polasek spoke of the need to see some more urgency at practice from the sophomore.
When Iowa needed help at guard in 2019, Kallenberger was eager for the assignment. He started four games on the right side of center Tyler Linderbaum and one at left guard. It was that one, in which he went the distance in the Hawkeyes’ 49-24 Holiday Bowl victory over USC, that really cemented in Kallenberger’s mind that he belonged, he said.
“I thought I played a pretty good game in there,” Kallenberger told reporters Tuesday. “So coming in to this year I had a lot to build on, but I also had confidence in myself.”
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Kallenberger acknowledged that he initially became confused at practices last year, when he was frequently shifting from one side of the line to the other.
“I would step the wrong way on a play,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of extra focus that takes, and it really comes to being prepared for practice.
“It came down to me getting some reps and winning some reps, focusing more in practice, to really trust myself out there.”
It all came together in the Holiday Bowl for Kallenberger. But still, he found himself as a Hawkeye reserve again when the 2020 season finally got underway last month. Cronk was brought in as a graduate transfer from Indiana to start at right tackle opposite Jackson. But Cronk is coming off of a surgery and wasn’t quite ready for a full workload. Kallenberger replaced him for several series in a Week 2 loss against Northwestern. After that, Iowa’s coaches decided to shut Cronk down for some time, so it’s Kallenberger’s job after all.
For now. He knows better than to get comfortable in his fourth season.
“I’ve just been trying to work on my technique every day. There’s always more stuff that can be built off,” Kallenberger said.
“And just really being locked in, because I am flipping from side to side.”
Kallenberger, who grew up a rabid Hawkeye fan, has been instrumental in some change taking place off the field as well. He has three Black roommates — Mekhi Sargent, Keontae Luckett and Yahweh Jeudy — and said he has been intent on listening to their experiences growing up in America ever since instances of racial bias within the program were revealed this summer.
“We all have to be more approachable. We have to get to know our teammates a lot better than we are right now. We have to come together as one. We need to be more cohesive,” Kallenberger said.
His conversations with teammates, as well as a message of support he received from a friend serving in Iraq, have led Kallenberger to join about 30 Hawkeyes in kneeling during the national anthem. To him, it’s a way to call attention to the fact that “things aren’t right in the moment right now” when it comes to race relations in America.
Kallenberger believes that there is an emerging bond between Hawkeyes of all races in the football complex. Many Black players had complained that they didn’t feel they could be themselves in the past, that their conduct was being policed and they were expected to conform to a white Iowa norm.
“From top to bottom, guys do feel like this is home now,” Kallenberger said. “Instead of, ‘Oh, this is just a practice facility.’”
Kallenberger certainly feels more at home during practices, whatever position he’s manning. And it’s showing up on the playing field.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.