Your top 5 Ferentz teams -- No. 5 2003 Outback champs

  • Photo

Checking in with four percent of the vote (31) is the 2003 Hawkeyes.

This team finished 10-3 and crushed Florida in the Outback Bowl, 37-17. This team was stable as it gets up top, with all-Americans Nate Kaeding and Robert Gallery and should-have-been-all-American Bob Sanders.

It also had players who kept their own time and were ready for when they were needed -- Ramon Ochoa, Jermire Roberts, Nathan Chandler, Matt Neubauer. This paragraph could go on forever with these names.

One of my favorite moments came after the season. ESPN the Magazine had Sanders come up to Cedar Rapids for a photo shoot. Sanders was in a great mood, having fun and on the brink of becoming one of the titan safeties of the NFL for most of the mid-2000s.

Even in 2003 (it was '04 then), one-on-ones with Iowa football players were few and far between. I think the was a bit of a breath of fresh air for both of us. (Story below.)


Iowa beat Miami (Ohio) 21-3. Why is that a biggie? Ben Roethlisberger was the QB and Iowa picked him off four times. . . . Iowa snapped a five-game losing streak to Iowa State with a 40-21 victory in Ames. . . . The Hawkeyes shook off a 14-0 deficit and topped Michigan 30-27 at Kinnick. Nathan Chandler's 31-yard TD pass to WR Ramon Ochoa put the Hawkeyes over the top. . . . Iowa beat Penn State 26-14 at Kinnick. Your Iowa TD scorers in that game were Ochoa, Matt Melloy, Chandler and Jermire Roberts, who returned a blocked punt 26 yards for a TD. . . . Robert Gallery killed a garbage can at Camp Randall when the Hawkeyes trailed 21-7 at halftime, setting off 27-21 victory that ended with FS Sean Considine tipping a pass in the last seconds. It was Iowa's first win at Camp Randall since '95.


Four turnovers killed the Hawkeyes as they saw a 13-game winning streak snapped, 20-10, at Michigan State. Iowa also had a 10-game Big Ten winning streak broken. Iowa won the coin toss and chose to kick off. It was just the second time in 47 games that it started on defense. Ferentz still laments that decision. . . . Special teams plays Ohio State made and Iowa didn't gave the Buckeyes a 19-10 win at Columbus. . . . Purdue scored the first 27 points in a 27-14 victory over the Hawkeyes at West Lafayette.

Fun facts

-- This was the zenith of Iowa's special teams. Kaeding won the Lou Groza Award in 2002 and was a finalist in '03. But maybe more incredibly, the Hawkeyes blocked five punts, a season record. Three of those went for TDs. Considine blocked two against Iowa State. Iowa won every game in which it blocked a punt.

-- Ochoa set season records with 40 punt returns and 495 punt return yards.

-- Gallery won Iowa's third Outland Trophy (Cal Jones, Alex Karras).



Nate Kaeding leaves no page unturned in becoming a better kicker

MADISON, Wis. - The notebook landed on his desk last spring. Chris Doyle opened it and found out why Nate Kaeding is collegefootball's best kicker.

The reason the kicker was in the strength and conditioning coach's office last spring was for fine tuning. Kaeding wanted a fresh leg heading into fall camp in August and figured Doyle could help. Doyle wanted to know what Kaeding did during the offseason.

Kaeding brought out the notebook.

"It went back a long ways. He probably has a ton of them," said Doyle, who's in his fifth season as Iowa's strength coach. "He charted every kick, practice, games, in and out of season. "He is just so meticulous and detailed. I think the story there is that this is no accident."

Kaeding the kicker is no accident.

Kaeding is among three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation's top kicker. He won the award last year. Kaeding is Iowa's career scoring leader with 351 points. He is third in Big Ten history with 345 career kicking points. He has virtually every kicking record at Iowa, including a streak of 22 straight field goals.

Last week, Kaeding equaled career highs with four field goals, 16 points and a 55-yard boot at the end of the first half. The senior earned his second weekly Big Ten special teams player of the week honor this season and the fifth of his career. He has been honored at least once in all four of his seasons at Iowa.

He's made 15 of 16 field goal attempts going into today's regular-season finale at Wisconsin.

None of this has been by accident.

"You can't really envision anything like this," Kaeding said. "It's almost exceeded expectations."

In the middle of this thought, when Kaeding could go into a full-on "Kaeding for Groza" stump speech, he veered to the team, which is so Kaeding and which is why Kaeding the kicker is universally respected, from coaches to managers to linebackers.

"The way the coaching staff approached it was that we would come in and bust our butts every day," Kaeding said. "We'd focus on doing the right things - going to class, being on time, tucking your shirts in.

"Eventually, you build that solid foundation on what's right and you're going to end up having a program like this, something that's going to last."

Kaeding knows about building solid foundations.

Before he was on teams that won state titles in football, basketball and soccer at Iowa City West, Kaeding was a junior high defensive back/receiver who eventually gravitated toward kicking.

He honed his skills going to the Midwest Kicking Camps his junior and senior years at West. The Kaedings didn't take out a second mortgage. It was more nurturing a passion.

Larry Kaeding, Nates' dad, never saw the notebook, but certainly saw the effort, detail and dedication.

"It means a lot to him," Larry Kaeding said. "He's put a lot of time into it. He's still having fun out there."

Kaeding's notebook is full of the landmark kicks.

The 50-yarder when he was a senior at West. The Alamo Bowl game-winner, a 47-yarder with 44 seconds left, is probably highlighted. The last two road trips to Penn State - an overtime game-winner in '00 and a 55-yarder last season - are written in pen. Last week, of course. The Iowa State game in September, in which he broke Iowa's scoring record.

But given Kaeding's grinder nature, you know the wide rights and lefts, the bounces off the uprights and the plain flubs are in there, too.

Giving Kaeding's grinder nature, they're probably the ones in magic marker.

"He's so detailed. He's so thorough, so conscientious," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "And it all starts because he's got tremendous pride. We don't have a guy who has more pride, and we've got a lot of guys who have pride, don't get me wrong.

"He's a guy who adds so much. And he's added so much to our football team. A lot more than just what he does when he kicks the football."

What landed the kicker in the strength coach's office was Kaeding's dogged dedication. He didn't know when to say when.

"He would kick until he was satisfied," Doyle said. "That could be 20 balls or 100 balls. Knowing Nate, that always was closer to 100."

Said Kaeding, "I'm the kind of guy who sees some little tweak and then goes and kicks 50 balls and try to make up for it."

Doyle cycled Kaeding's workouts, ensuring that Kaeding's leg strength would be at its height going into the season.

Instead of 50 or 100 balls until he felt right, Kaeding would concentrate on 20 or 50, with more at the beginning of game week and fewer as game day approached.

"He kind of put on something like you see pitchers in the major leagues are on, a pitch count," Kaeding said. "How many reps? How often? How much intensity?

"It was kind of different. I've always prided myself in outworking and outpreparing the guy next to me. It's not like you have to run more sprints than this guy or kick more balls than this guy, but you've got to be more prepared in the sense that you know your strengths and weaknesses."

Kaeding's kicking season won't end with today's game against Wisconsin and Iowa's bowl game. He's going to the Senior Bowl in January. Then there will be the NFL combine and numerous individual workouts for NFL teams thinking about drafting a kicker in April.

He'll juggle the NFL circuit while he finishes his history/secondary education major as a student teacher in Wilton.

Given the tenuous life of kickers in the NFL, Kaeding is going into the NFL meat market with an open mind.

"It's a matter of what these teams need and what the circumstances are," he said. "I just put out my best effort. If a team really likes me, then I'll be happy getting drafted by whoever that may be."

Open mind, open notebook.

Iowa's Nate Kaeding (95) celebrates his 55 yard field goal with teammate Bob Sanders (33) during Iowa's 40-22 victory over Minnesota Saturday November 15, 2003 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Gazette/Brian Ray)



Whole new playing field

Ex-Hawkeye Sanders eager to make his passion his business

CEDAR RAPIDS The old-school San Diego Padres jersey said hip-hop. But lunch said college kid in Iowa, a cheesy Maid-Rite with plenty of ketchup.

Bob Sanders is caught between two worlds.

The former all-Big Ten safety for the Iowa Hawkeyes is still in Iowa. He's working out at the Iowa football complex with fellow NFL-draft eligibles Fred Russell and Chris Smith.

He's also some three weeks from the NFL draft, the new world for the 5-foot-9, 209-pounder.

"The weirdest thing that I've noticed is that it's not a game anymore, it's a business," Sanders said Wednesday. "It's a job. This is how I'm going to be putting food on my family's table. I'm going to be making a living and it's going to be my everyday job.

"I'm excited. I'm blessed to be able to do something I enjoy each and every day.

"You're now playing with guys who are in their 30s, who have children and wives and families. You've got to go into it and you've got to be a man. You've got to be able to tend to your business."

Wednesday, Sanders ate lunch at Maid-Rite West in Cedar Rapids, the backdrop for a photo shoot with ESPN The Magazine.

He chowed food - he's up to 209 pounds, 13 more than he played at last fall, but it's good weight, 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash weight - and asked, "Hat or no hat?"

Let's touch on some of the hard NFL-draft stuff.

Sanders has an agent, Cleveland-based Neil Cornrich, who also lists Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz as a client. Sanders wowed the NFL combine poke-and-prod squad with a 4.36 40, 15 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press and an otherworldly 41-inch vertical leap, the highest at the combine.

"Whatever you do in life, you probably won't experience something like that," Sanders said. "It's basically a place where everybody in the world who could hire you for that one job you've always wanted is in that one place."

During January's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Sanders eased some scouts' worries by flashing cover skills that he wasn't asked to show at Iowa.

"I was a run-stopper," said Sanders, who was a second-team all-American and first-team all-Big Ten pick last season. "I played a lot better closer to the line, I enjoyed the physical part of the game, sort of like a linebacker."

But he knew after his sophomore year that he would have to develop cover skills, one-on-one, the complete package.

"When you get to this point, they want to see you do it all," said Sanders, referring to NFL scouts and coaches. "They want to see that you can make it look easy.

"They didn't see that on film (at Iowa). But I think I answered that at the Senior Bowl. They saw I could play the deep middle and play off the hashes. I was starting on the first day, but I got hurt (foot, it's OK now, though). And down at the combine, I showed I can jump and run fast."

Between now and the April 24-25 draft, Sanders will go through a series of workouts for teams. He did one for the New York Jets last week in Iowa City. He's been told he's a second- or third-rounder, but has also heard late first, maybe. Of course, he wants to go as high and as quickly as possible in the draft, but he has no expectations.

He doesn't have a favorite NFL team. He doesn't have a particular team or city in mind. Today, it's old-school Padres jersey and funky Chicago Cubs hat.

"I never get nervous about it (the draft)," Sanders said. "I get excited. It's a long wait, though. There's another whole month left.

"But it's like looking at something you've wanted your whole life and it's a month away. It's exciting for me, my family."

Sanders will spend draft day with his parents, Jean and Marion, back in Erie, Pa. The three-time first-team all-Big Ten pick, has resisted the temptation to go out and spend his signing bonus, which will run into seven digits. Former Iowa offensive lineman Eric Steinbach received a $1.8 million signing bonus as a second-rounder last season.

"I want to wait until I get my own, I don't want to have to take any loans and have to owe anybody," Sanders said. "I haven't gotten anything yet. You've got to be smart. You don't have it yet, so it's not yours. You know you're going to be paid in a few months, you've just got to be smart about it."

You can't argue with Sanders' logic. And you can't argue with his future.

For the record, he didn't take classes this semester at Iowa. He talked with Ferentz and they decided that he could come back and finish his degree, on scholarship, after setting up in the NFL.

The course is set for the NFL Bob.

Now, the question is hat or no hat.  

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.