IOWA CITY — Dominic Alvis isn’t all the way back but he’s close, and that’s good enough for now.
Alvis, Iowa’s 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior defensive end, had two tackles for loss and three overall Saturday against Northern Illinois in Chicago. It was an impressive debut for a player who’s still trying to rebuild his stamina — and his game — 10 months after an ACL tear.
“The most pleasing part was Alvis really had a good game, and I don’t want to say he’s been struggling but he’s been laboring in camp,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I may have said that a week or two ago in that he’s coming back from an injury and you don’t just get out there and ride full speed. You don’t get on that bike and go full speed. You’re trying, but you don’t.”
Alvis started eight of his first nine games last year and had 3.5 tackles for loss. Alvis suffered a torn ACL against Michigan in his ninth game and was out for the season and through spring drills. He dragged a bit mentally watching his teammates play while he sat.
“There was a little bit of time where I was feeling sorry for myself,” Alvis said. “It was very easy for me to say, ‘Poor me.’ I was just dwelling on that. I was pretty much out of a job, sitting on the couch and everyone else is out playing and having fun. Then I took the positive approach that things aren’t going to get better unless I change myself and work for it. That’s the attitude I took.”
Alvis worked his knee back into shape and believed he was ready for training camp. But something was missing. He lacked the explosion off the edge and he couldn’t fire into the offensive tackle as he did a year ago.
“It was very difficult, especially going against guys like (tackle) Brandon Scherff from the start, guys who are big, strong, tough dudes,” Alvis said. “It a huge challenge. I was rusty. My leg wasn’t quite as strong. My technique was off. I got thrown in the fire quick.
“The most difficult part is, playing in football, it’s all about leverage and taking short steps. Firing underneath you in a split second and just the reaction. I guess it’s just a combination of things. Just being able to stay bent while you’re taking on a 300-pound guy.”
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The repetitions came daily as did the progress. He started against Northern Illinois and stopped Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch for no gain in the first quarter.
Late in the third quarter, Alvis bulled into Northern Illinois left tackle Tyler Loos, then went around him. Alvis powered into Lynch for a six-yard sack. That play changed the game’s complexion.
Counting Alvis’ sack, Northern Illinois gained minus-12 yards on its final 17 plays. The Huskies rushed 10 times for minus-11. Perhaps even more important, Northern Illinois completed just one of its final seven passes for minus-1. The game shifted from a 17-9 Iowa deficit to an 18-17 Hawkeye win.
Alvis also added a one-yard tackle for loss late in the fourth quarter that kept Northern Illinois backed up on its goal line. The Huskies were forced to punt, Iowa took over at the 24 and scored the game-winning touchdown three plays later.
It was a gritty performance for Alvis, one Ferentz later credited.
“It’s probably quite frankly his best day, I think that was our 30th time with a helmet on since we started and luckily for us, 30 was his best one,” Ferentz said. “I think that will give us some confidence now.”