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IOWA CITY — In case you were wondering, yes, you totally can tell when an Achilles tendon ruptures. In fact, it’s unmistakable.
“I honestly knew right away that it was probably the end,” Iowa senior offensive tackle Ike Boettger said. “I’d heard enough about Achilles injuries. You can feel pretty evidently that it’s not there.”
So, in week 2 at Iowa State, down went one senior three-year starting offensive tackle. Boettger was hurt early in the second half. You heard him, he knew about 10 minutes after it happened his Iowa career was over.
Guess where his thoughts turned next?
“I was just honestly hoping we were going to win the game,” Boettger said. “That’s all I was really thinking about.”
Boone Myers, the other senior three-year starting offensive tackle, suffered a high-ankle sprain during August camp and it only got worse. Myers last played at Michigan State on Sept. 30. He had surgery during the last week of October to clean things up. The prognosis is pretty good. He has a chance to make it back for the Hawkeyes’ bowl game. He was still in a walking boot on Tuesday.
This wasn’t the senior year they had in mind.
“It’s hard, I’m not going to lie,” Myers said. “My role has changed. I couldn’t get the job done anymore, not the way some of these younger guys can. I have to sit out and become a mentor now. I have to help these young guys. Hopefully, they learn something from me.”
Did you really think these guys were going to play video games and mope?
With Myers slowed through camp, redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson took over left tackle and has started every game this season. When Boettger went down, guard Sean Welsh moved out to right tackle. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz eventually admitted that move weakened the offensive line at a couple of spots — Welsh is an all-Big Ten-caliber guard — and inserted true freshman Tristan Wirfs into the right tackle spot on Oct. 7 against Illinois.
Iowa suddenly found itself with two freshmen offensive tackles. The injured seniors are doing everything they can to help.
First off, could Boettger and Myers have seen themselves playing as freshmen? (Keep in mind, they started their Iowa careers around 240 pounds.)
“My true freshman and redshirt freshman years, I was in no place to be out on the field and I wasn’t, I didn’t have to be,” said Myers, a Webster City native. “They have to be. They have to grow up and learn a lot of stuff really quickly. They have to learn on the fly. They’ve handled it tremendously so far. I’m proud of them, they’ve been playing hard.”
With Boettger, remember he played quarterback during his career at Cedar Falls High School.
“Thinking about when I was a freshman,” Boettger said. “Obviously, there was no chance I would’ve played. I was like 230 pounds.”
Myers and Boettger have regularly watched video with the O-line group. They defer to offensive line coach Tim Polasek, but they’ve also offered feedback/help to Wirfs and Jackson.
“Ike and I have played a role in helping those guys out, same with the guys on the field, they’ve helped them out, too,” Myers said. “They have a whole room of support. They talk to us and Ike and I will see things, take them off to the side and kind of correct it, show them how it should be done and what to look for.”
Experience was lost when Boettger and Myers went down. There’s also no substitute for strength, and they spent five years in Iowa’s weight room. Jackson is on year 2. Wirfs hasn’t had a full year with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
That shows up against veteran defenses, like last week against Wisconsin.
“We just played a team that’s pretty mature physically, and there’s something to be said for maturity,” Ferentz said. “We talk about experience, experience and maturity kind of go hand in hand, and if guys are doing things right, they get better with every year, every step of the program.
“... You know, you just can’t diminish that, the importance of that, yet you can’t dwell on it, either. It is what it is, and you push forward. To that point, we’re in November now, so we all know what we’re doing.”
From the outside, it’s hard not to see good things for Jackson and Wirfs. Boettger and Myers didn’t start their careers with the quintessential tackle bodies. Jackson is 6-7, 320 and showed his commitment when he lost 40 pounds in the last offseason so he could be a better player. Wirfs is 6-5, 315, a state champion heavyweight wrestler and a national-level performer in the shot put (70-foot range).
From the inside, the view is pretty much the same.
“The sky’s the limit if they just follow the process,” Boettger said. “They’re team-oriented guys. They want to win games, they want to play for championships someday. If they trust the strength and conditioning staff and the coaching staff, the sky is the limit.”
Boettger, who has another two to four months of rehab, and Myers spent the last five years putting on somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 pounds apiece to make it as Big Ten offensive tackles. Of course, they’re going to pursue the NFL.
Real life is out there, too. Boettger said, yes, he’s envisioned a day where he’s maybe 210 pounds and normal-human sized.
“That’ll be nice someday,” he said. “I hope it’s not for a while.”
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