A guardian of the legacy
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The first day new University of Iowa football student-athletes set foot on campus, their photographs are taken by strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. When they check out of the Hayden Fry Football Complex four or five years later, they get a peek at their old selves.
In all cases, the rookie Hawkeye looks much different from the graduating one. In fact, many of the players cringe or laugh at how their former self looked—both physically and maturity-wise.
Hawkeye center James Ferentz can attest.
The son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, James came to the UI after an exceptional career at in-town Iowa City High School. Twice he was named first-team all-state in football, and he finished runner-up at the state wrestling championships as a senior. James said he enjoys playing for his father, and he is putting the finishing touches on his career by making amends for what could be described as growing pains by a much younger James.
"I know I drove him nuts for a while," James said Friday at Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago. "I'm thankful for the opportunity to play at the University of Iowa, and I'm going to enjoy it as much as possible. I was screwing up on the football field and then I was obviously able to screw up off the football field. I wasn't doing a lot of good things for him, but I'm trying to pay him back now."
Talk about an everlasting Father's Day gift.
A 19-year-old James Ferentz is a skeleton of the 23-year-old James Ferentz. The younger version of James was penalized with suspension from spring ball and community service in 2009 following two transgressions; the current version of James is listed on the Rimington Trophy preseason Watch List for a second straight season, and more importantly, he is a repeat selection to the team's Leadership Group.
"That's the process of growing up," says James, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer as a junior. "When you're younger, you're not aware of how selfish you're being with some of the things you do. As you get older, you're able to put more on your plate in a leadership role and try to set an example for the other guys. Around the (football) complex, we talk about being guardians of the legacy: either you're building the tradition, or you're breaking it down."
It's construction time for James these days.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 284 pounds, James is a main cog on a Hawkeye offensive line that a year ago was second in the Big Ten for fewest yards penalized, and third in fewest penalties per game. Iowa averaged 372.5 yards of offense and 27.5 points a contest in 2011. James started all 13 games a year ago, as did left tackle Riley Reiff, right guard Adam Gettis, and right tackle Markus Zusevics. Reiff, Gettis, and Zusevics are now in the NFL.
"We lost some great players, but those guys did the program a huge favor by mentoring these younger guys," James says. "They left their mark not only on the field, but off the field as well with the role they had in the development of the younger players."
Younger players like Brandon Scherff, Andrew Donnal, Austin Blythe, and Jordan Walsh—all names on the preseason depth chart, and all underclassmen.
"The two names that jump out are Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh," James says. "You're looking at two great guys, two great human beings. Their character is outstanding, and when you put them on the football field—especially in Hawkeye uniforms—the future looks great."
One way James guards the Iowa legacy is by mentoring, the same way he was advised in 2008 by then-Hawkeye Rob Bruggeman, now with the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I'll never forget my first year. Rob Bruggeman took me under his wing and showed me how to prepare for a game, how to carry yourself day-to-day if you want to be successful," James says. "He was a great role model and he is someone I try to be like now that I'm in a position where he was when I came into the program."
Like the rest of the contingent at Big Ten Football Media Days, James is dashing into a tunnel-vision approach of football 24-7. Fall camp opens Aug. 3—a time where players become oblivious to external chatter and distractions, and focus on doing things the Hawkeye way.
The Hawkeye way is to build on the tradition, not to break it down; it is taking a raw youngster and giving him the tools to be a talented, successful man down the road. "It's one of those things you never realize until it's all said and done," James says.