What's in a number? More than you know
IOWA CITY -- Micah Hyde was called "Sticks" in high school because he wore the No. 11. Who wouldn't like that for a nickname? It's different, interesting, kind of cool.
So, on his first day as a Hawkeye back in 2009, he was in the line for his gear and asked Iowa equipment manager Greg Morris for No. 11. Whoops, sorry. Wide receiver Donny Nordmann had 11.
"Before we come in, they ask us what number we want and 18 was not in my top 10, that's for sure," said the junior defensive back who is No. 18 in your program. "I asked for another number, another number and next thing you know, he [Morris] says, 'You have 18.'
"I thought, all right. I was a freshman coming in here, I didn't have anything to say about it. I thought about changing my number, but I like it now."
There is a process to how Hawkeyes receive their jersey numbers. It starts in February, when recruiting is finished, and needs to be over by the end of the month when Morris orders Iowa's jerseys for the next season. It involves a two-page spreadsheet, position matches, duplication possibilities and, yes, some of the history behind the number and maybe even personality.
Morris works with head coach Kirk Ferentz, who's OK with players getting the number they want but isn't OK with a lot of juggling around.
"I think that's a bigger and bigger thing for guys," said Ferentz, who spent two years in 85 and the next two in 36 as a linebacker at UConn ("I can't tell you why," he said). "Usually, the first thing we'll tell them is Bob Sanders wasn't 33 in high school, but he made 33 pretty famous around here and Dallas Clark made 44 pretty famous."
Linebacker James Morris wore No. 28 while winning three state titles at Solon High School. Greg Morris is his stepdad, so the Dallas Clark history lesson came quickly.
"I know when James got his 44, he thought a little bit about it because he was partial to 28," Greg Morris said. "Then, he thought about Dallas Clark and he was fine."
Morris and Ferentz try to match players to their high school numbers, but there is some "you get what you get."
Running back Marcus Coker has worn No. 34 his entire life, the number of his childhood idols, NFL running backs Walter Payton and Earl Campbell. When he arrived in Iowa City, there were no guarantees.
"They knew I liked 34 and they said, if you get it, you get it. If you don't, you don't," Coker said. "It just happened, I got it. I got lucky."
February is when Morris takes stock of open numbers. Those numbers are culled on the spreadsheet that goes 1 through 99. Iowa's roster includes 120 players, so some of the players with duplicate numbers are awarded their own. Freshman wide receiver Blake Haluska, a walk-on from Carroll, moved up to his very own No. 9 during the last offseason.
"We'll look at our 'back-page' guys, the above 99s, and see where he [Ferentz] wants to plug those guys in first," Morris said. "Once they're in, recruits are plugged in. And then between the time I order the jerseys and August, there's always a few changes."
Free safety Tanner Miller wore No. 49 his freshman year. It was a linebacker number. He wore No. 5 during his entire youth as a Mid-Prairie prep athlete. When punter Ryan Donahue graduated in May, he asked for a switch.
"It was kind of weird having a linebacker number," Miller said. "I was No. 5 in high school and I just wanted to go back to something I've always had. It was something I grew up with. It was something I wanted. I asked coach and he said it was fine."
Once the numbers are decided, Morris is in charge of the spelling. Yes, he has the name of tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz down.
"It's hard for me to look at that roster and hope that I spelled everyone's name right," Morris said. "One time, we had three different McMillans here.
"Last year, [tight end] Zach Derby came and asked to have 'Z. Derby' put on his jersey, which is fine, we'll do that. But then in the middle of the season, [Zach's brother] A.J. said, why couldn't I do that? Well, he didn't ask."
Wide receiver Marvin McNutt had No. 7 when he played on the junior varsity at Hazelwood (Mo.) Central, so he kind of wanted it when he arrived in Iowa City in 2007.
"He [Morris] just gave it to me," McNutt said.
That random act set in motion an economic consideration for the McNutt family. McNutt's mom, Anita, found a website that made Iowa No. 7 jerseys. In the last few years, the UI started selling officially licensed No. 7s.
How many McNutt No. 7s in your family, Marvin?
"You could probably put it to 50 or more," he said.
The No. 7 has earned some reverence during the Ferentz era. Quarterback Brad Banks wore it in 2002, when he lead the Hawkeyes to their first undefeated Big Ten campaign in 80 years and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting.
The next No. 7 has a lot to live up to. All-American punter Reggie Roby wore it, and so did kicker Rob Houghtlin. McNutt is 21 receptions and one TD away from owning every wide receiver record the University of Iowa lists.
"You don't make it [the number] anything, you just play as hard as you can in that jersey," he said. "And then, hopefully, when they go down that list of great No. 7s who played here, you can be mentioned with some of their names."
Offensive tackle Markus Zusevics was No. 53 as a prep at Prospect (Ill.) High School. Morris handed him No. 56, a number he's lived in for five years.
"It's special to you because it's your number. It's almost a piece of your identity the past five years," Zusevics said. "It's weird. It's something that you identify with becomes such a part of you."
The identity notion rings true with Morris.
"He [Ferentz] looks at position, probably who's had it before and their personality," Morris said. "Once they're done, guys come back and that's still their number. You talk to [Iowa radio analyst and former Hawkeye] Ed Podolak today. He's still 14, that's still his number."
Maybe history played into the number that ended up on quarterback James Vandenberg's back. He wears No. 16, which is, of course, the same number Chuck Long (1982-85) wore during an all-American career.
Vandenberg wanted No. 10, the number he wore while setting 12 state records as a prep at Keokuk.
"I don't know why I wasn't given No. 10 in all honesty," he said. "I was 10 in high school and I asked for that. Nobody had 10 on offense and they gave 10 to a guy on defense and I was given 16. But I wasn't going to be a guy who stood up and tried to get it changed, so I just stuck with it."
Yes, he knew about the Chuck Long thing.
"I knew that right away as well," said Vandenberg, who's the No. 2 passer in the Big Ten in his first season as a starter. "Making the switch, it's an honor to wear that number after Chuck Long. I'm doing everything I can to live up to it."
Now, the Vandenberg family is all about No. 16, from mom to dad to a lot of people from Keokuk.
There are a lot of Keokuk 16 jerseys, I think," he said. "That's definitely one of the cool parts of being from so close."
When they come in during recruiting, we get an idea what number they want to wear. Then, it's obviously got to be open. Kirk has never been big on juggling guys around, then we're constantly moving people around. -- He looks at position, probably who's had it before and their personality. Once they're done, guys come back and that's still their number. You talk to Ed Podolak today. He's still 14, that's still his number. I know when James got his 44, he thought a little bit about it because he was partial to 28, the number he wore in high school. Then, he thought about Dallas Clark and he was fine.
Sometimes, when they come in as freshmen, because of what's open on the roster, we plug them in, like Mika'il McCall, No. 25 is a running back. We have to be careful with 50 to 79 because, first and foremost, that has to be an offensive linemen. Defensive linemen can be any number, so we have to be protective of those. Then, you'll get some guys who come in and aren't familiar with our history and they'll want 24 and 62 and I have to explain that to them and that's no big deal.
Once we're done, in the middle of January to February, there will still be guys who want to change. Sometimes, Kirk will do it, sometimes he won't. A lot of it has to do with who's coming in and who we have to plug in. We don't usually put No. 2 on a linebacker or a running back. Freddie Russell was the last guy who got that. He looks at the big picture sometimes and the future. -- Another thing we think about more now is a lot of parents and families and high school teammates want those numbers and they'll go buy them and then they get flipped the next year, everyone is out $150. Jason White has had three or four numbers. If you're a dup (duplicate) guy, we have to be careful with that. Sometimes, a number will change during the week because of special teams. That doesn't make some parents happy because they have their favorite number on and then they change. But then they think about it and they're OK because that means their son is on the field.
How it works -- Once we're done figuring out who's not coming back, we'll take those names off. I will give him a roster with all the current guys. We do 1 through 99 on a spreadsheet, page 1 and page 2. He'll take the guys who are dupped now and maybe move them up. Blake Haluska comes to mind. Last year, he was a dup number and this year we moved him to No. 9. We'll look at our 'back-page' guys, the above 99s, and see where he wants to plug those guys in first. Once they're in and depending on who we've signed, then those guys are plugged in. And then there's always between the time I order the jerseys and August, there's always a few changes.
It's hard for me to look at that roster and hope that I spelled everyone's name right. One time, we had three different McMillans here. Last year, Zach Derby came and asked to have 'Z. Derby' put on his jersey, which is fine, we'll do that. But then in the middle of the season, A.J. said, why couldn't I do that? Well, he didn't ask. I take responsibility to make sure guys get what they want, but usually, I leave that alone. I learned a long time ago, once they get their number, most of them are happy and satisfied and realize that's what I'm doing and that's it.
Petition -- There are guys who do that every year. They get to meet with Kirk in February, once recruiting is over, and that's the time for them to ask. Maybe we have a wide receiver switch to defensive back. If they're wearing 3 and want 13, maybe they make that change. He'll look at stuff like that because there might be a wide receiver coming in he would rather have in 3 than 13.
Micah Hyde (#18)
How -- Greg gave it to me. Before we came in, they asked us what number we want and 18 was not in my top 10, that's for sure. I think I told them I wore 11 because that's what I wore in high school. He told me someone else had it, Donny Nordmann had it. I asked for another number, another number and next thing you know, he says, 'You have 18.' I thought, all right. I was a freshman coming in here, I didn't have anything to say about it. I thought about changing my number, but I like it now.
How make it yours -- Everyone calls me 18 now. In high school, when I wore 11, people used to call me 'Sticks,' because of the number. When I hear 11 called, sometimes I still think that's me. It's slowly getting in my mind.
Tanner Miller (#5)
Was 49 -- It was kind of weird having a linebacker number. I was No. 5 in high school and I just wanted to go back to something I've always had. It was something I grew up with. It was something I wanted. I asked coach and he said it was fine. -- It was open. Ryan Donahue graduated so it opened up for me. We might've been on the field at the same time.
Mike Daniels (#93)
I thought it looked nice. (He asked for it.) -- I wore 42 in high school in honor of my cousin who was a pretty good football player. He died and I wore that number to honor him. No. 93, I don't know. I thought, if I end up playing fullback, I wear 42. And if I play defensive line, I'll wear 93. I like 93. -- Become a part of you -- It's definitely interesting. Some people only know you as 93, it's becomes your name. I'll be identified by it here for the rest of my life. When people here think of Adrian, they think of 94. When they think of Shonn Greene, they think of 23. It's definitely something that's going to be part of me and, hopefully, I can pass it on. -- Weird how it works -- That's the best way to pick out people in sports.
Marvin McNutt (#7)
Wanted 7 -- I wanted it at one point [in high school]. I had it my JV year, but on varsity I was 13. -- He just gave it to me. -- You don't make it anything, you just play as hard as you can in that jersey. And then, hopefully, when they go down that list of great No. 7s who played here, you can be mentioned with some of their names. -- Yeah, Brad Banks. There are a lot of them. -- How many McNutt No. 7s in the family -- You could probably put it to 50 or more. -- My mom found a website a few years ago they could get them on. Now, luckily, they started selling my jersey in stores now. -- Ask for a jersey No. -- Knowing me, I wouldn't ask for it. It's not really a matter of asking for it, it's a matter of hoping I get to the NFL.
Broderick Binns (#91)
He was 26 in high school -- Had to switch -- First of all, I wasn't a big-time recruit, so, of course, I'm not going to come in demanding things. Just my personality, I'd take whatever. If they wanted to give me 99, I'd take it. -- How have you made it yours -- It's not really anywhere in my life except on Saturdays. (wearing a gray Iowa sweatshirt with 91 written in black marker). There were 100 guys who wore 91 before me and did greater things than I have and there will be 100 guys who wear it after me. I'll pass on the torch.
James Vandenberg (#16)
I have no idea. I was given it. I don't know why I wasn't given No. 10 in all honesty. -- I was 10 in high school and I asked for that. Nobody had 10 on offense and they gave 10 to a guy on defense and I was given 16. I wasn't going to be a guy who stood up and tried to get it changed, so I just stuck with it. -- No. 16 -- I knew that right away as well. I was fine switching. Not a huge deal to me. -- Like switching apartments -- I was 10 all growing up. Making the switch, it's an honor to wear that number after Chuck Long. I'm doing everything I can to live up to it. -- How many 16s -- A lot. There are a lot of Keokuk 16 jerseys, I think. -- That's definitely one of the cool parts of being from so close.
Shaun Prater (#28)
That's basically what number they gave me and I didn't have a problem with that. My favorite player is Adrian Peterson, the way he runs and his style of football. I wore No. 4 in high school, but Bernstine already had that one. I didn't care, just put me on the field.
I wish I could wear some black tape, but other than that, I just put the jersey on and go out there and get my job done to the best of my ability. -- Notice it -- Not at all.
Marcus Coker (#34)
Was 34 in high school, too. -- Pretty much. They knew I liked 34 and they said, if you get it, you get it. If you don't, you don't. It just happened, I got it. I got lucky.
Markus Zusevics (#56)
That's just what they handed to me when I first showed up here. They usually match you up with something close to your high school number. I was 53 in high school, 56 was available and I didn't complain. -- How have you made it yours -- It's special to you because it's your number. It's almost a piece of your identity the past five years. I guess everyone's number is special to them. -- Weird, such a random thing can get into your consciousness -- Yeah, it's weird. It's something that you identify with becomes such a part of you. -- Hung up a couple at home.
Kirk Ferentz (#85/36)
COACH FERENTZ: I was 85 initially, ended up 36, and I can't tell you why. Two years in 85, two years in 36, and they're still trying to get rid of those jerseys, I can promise you. So that's kind of where it is.Like a lot of things that have changed over the last 10 years, I think that's a bigger and bigger thing for guys. Usually the first thing we'll tell them is Bob Sanders wasn't 33 in high school, but he became -- he made 33 pretty famous around here, and Dallas Clark made 44 pretty famous. But it is something people are interested in.