Iowa football's Henry Marchese's patience sparks game-turning plays in final two games

In a lot of ways, Iowa's 28-21 win over Nebraska symbolized who they are this year and what the program is built on.

It wasn't pretty, it required all three phases of the game and somehow, the Hawkeyes found a way to win at the end.

A number of notable Iowa players stood behind the podium in the postgame presser with standout performances: running back Tyler Goodson, who rushed for over 150 yards; quarterback Spencer Petras, who led a second-half comeback; or linebacker Jack Campbell, who had 16 tackles. Yet for the second straight week, a considerable amount of attention went to a player with far less star power: fifth-year senior Henry Marchese.

And for good reason. The unquestioned play of Friday's game arrived at the 14:16 mark in the fourth quarter when Marchese blocked a Nebraska punt that linebacker Kyler Fisher returned for a touchdown to cut their deficit to 21-16. That play seized the momentum and Iowa never looked back. 

"We needed a play. We needed a spark," Marchese said. "That's what special teams is for, to help the team out in any situation. I rolled over and saw the ball just skyrocket in the air and saw (Fisher) catch it, and as soon as he did I just went bananas." 

Similarly, Marchese was a crucial part of another special teams spark last Saturday against Illinois. Down 10-0, Iowa wide receiver Charlie Jones returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown with Marchese setting the springing block on the play. Take away those two plays, and it's much harder to visualize Iowa as Co-Big Ten West champions. 

Marchese is a utility player rotating between wide receiver and defensive back. He's never started a game and hardly has any statistics as a career special teams player but in back-to-back weeks provided the necessary "spark." Friday's game symbolized who Iowa's program is and Marchese is a microcosm of that: hard work and dedication yielding winning moments at the right time. 

"What a great example of a kid in his fifth year who didn't have to come back," Jack Campbell said. "Nowadays people decide this isn't working so I'll leave or I'm not starting so I'll leave. He embodies a Hawkeye football player. I can't even explain it but that's what makes the game of football so great are those people in a locker room." 

A two-sport star in high school, Marchese turned down Major League Baseball for a scholarship at Iowa. He was a 34th round selection by the San Diego Padres in 2017. Big Ten football is in Marchese's blood: His dad played for Iowa from 1982-1985 and three brothers — Joe (Maryland), Jimmy (Illinois) and Michael (Illinois) — have played football in the Big Ten. 

Iowa senior defensive back Henry Marchese greets his parents and brother (and current Illinois tight end) Michael, during a senior day ceremony prior to kickoff against Illinois on Nov. 20 at Kinnick Stadium.

He spent the first few years trying to find his way, alternating between positions during that time. A role in the regular playing rotation wasn't in the cards, but a niche opportunity opened up for Marchese after awhile: special teams. It's not always easy for coaches to get backup players to invest in special teams, much less ones who at one point had professional prospects in another sport. 

But Marchese embraced the role for reasons like what happened on Friday. For him, it's not about personal accolades — it's about the team. The praise he received postgame is all he could ask for. 

"My college career has been switching positions," Marchese said. "Wide receiver, defensive back, it doesn't matter. Just staying true to myself and my teammates and trusting my coaches. It doesn't matter about stats or recognition. All I care about is the respect of my teammates and coaches." 

Marchese's obsession with helping the team paired perfectly with special teams coordinator LeVar Woods' obsession with maximizing Iowa's special teams' play. The two game-changing plays Marchese has made over the last two weeks illustrate that: 

"We just got a great call, great situation on our left hash (mark), Marchese said. "(Nebraska) points out the guys they're going to block. I knew they weren't going to point at me so I knew I had a free shot at the punter. Just trying to do my job, trusting my coaches to put me in that situation and executing." 

For the second straight week, Iowa's special teams dominated the day and within that, the team's spark came from Marchese. He is one of the many examples throughout the Kirk Ferentz era of capitalizing on the opportunity presented. And Marchese's story was a catalyst in the historic 10-win regular season finish. 

"If a guy's willing to work hard and has a good attitude then there's room for him on our team," Ferentz said. "You never a guy's going to help you. I promise you if you said this was going to happen three years ago all of the coaches would've said, 'no way,' even two years ago. But you watch this guy, he took ownership over what was open to him and it's really good. 

"You feel good for a guy like Goodson who had 150 (rushing yards), Petras, the quarterback or whomever but this is maybe more gratifying. Seeing the guys take pride in helping the team, that's what it's all about." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at