Wadley, Niemann provide glimpse of future for Iowa

Chad Leistikow
Nov 1, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley (25) spins past Northwestern Wildcats cornerback Matthew Harris (27) during the game at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

IOWA CITY, Ia. – On a week where two budding stars exited the Iowa football program – Derrick Willies by transfer, Reggie Spearman by a two-game suspension – it was perhaps fitting that two freshmen burst onto the scene during Saturday's 48-7 rout of Northwestern.

Two out, two in.

Redshirt freshman Akrum Wadley was the day's buzziest star, running for 106 yards on 15 carries in his first game as a Hawkeye.

The last player to rush for 100-plus in his first Iowa game was Brandon Wegher in 2009 against Iowa State. No Hawkeye has topped 100 in 11 games.

"They told me when I wake up tomorrow, I'll be sore," Wadley said during a grin-filled postgame interview session. "But I'm not really feeling anything. I'm actually good. I think I could go some more quarters."

And then there was true freshman linebacker Ben Niemann of Sycamore, Ill. All he did was block a Northwestern punt with his outstretched left hand, pick it up himself and step into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown and a 24-0 Iowa lead.

Kirk Ferentz restricts true freshmen from conducting media interviews, but the university was compelled to release some quotes after Niemann's big play.

"Their personal protector didn't really come out to me (on the Wildcats' first punt)," said Niemann, who was born in Des Moines and lived in Iowa until sixth grade. "I noticed that, so the second time I tried to bend it a little more, and I got the block."

Senior linebacker Quinton Alston used the word "proud" when discussing Niemann. He raved about the freshman's poise.

"It feels like he's been here three years already," Alston said. "He's so mature."

Fans should get used to Wadley, backfield mate Mark Weisman said. Wadley got Saturday's opportunity with Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels sidelined with injuries.

Ferentz stuck with Wadley after a third-quarter fumble. He stuck with the Newark, N.J., native through some academic troubles, too, which he referenced on Wednesday night's weekly radio show.

"When I was in high school, it was kind of easy. Adjusting to college was hard," Wadley said Saturday. "I fell behind first semester. Second semester, I picked it up and realized what opportunity I've got playing here, it doesn't come around every day."

It'll be hard to keep Wadley out of the rotation after Saturday's performance.

"He's so fast out there, hitting that hole hard," Weisman said. "Shifty. Got that deadly spin move. A really good back. He's only going to get better. I see a lot of Akrum Wadley in the future."