IOWA CITY — The season has reached the senior day ritual. Meet your mom and dad at midfield and then go punch Purdue in the face.
Nah, that’s not an awkward juxposition. Not at all.
“I don’t know about sad,” senior fullback Drake Kulick said. “It might be bittersweet. I love playing in Kinnick. I think that could be said for all of the seniors. It’s truly a special place to play. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Kulick has one rule for senior day and it’s mostly for his mom, Teresa.
“I told my mom, don’t cry,” Kulick said. “I don’t like when people cry. I know my dad (Leo) is going to be fine, but I’m serious, don’t cry.”
At one point, Purdue (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) would’ve been a perfect senior day opponent. First-year coach Jeff Brohm has the Boilermakers pointed the right direction. Yes, they’ve lost three of their last four, but three of those were one-score games, including a 17-9 loss at Wisconsin. You saw what the Badgers did to Iowa (6-4, 3-4) last weekend. Iowa’s 66 yards of total offense might’ve been its worst outing since the 1940s.
“To me the real story is their defensive improvement because they haven’t been good enough on defense to win consistently and they’re playing really at a high level right now,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Most important status is points given up, and they’re not giving up a lot (fourth in the league at 19.3 points per game), so they’re doing really well there.”
Iowa ended the Wisconsin game with a few players out of the lineup. Safety Amani Hooker missed last week with a knee bruise. Ferentz said Tuesday that he hasn’t practiced yet this week and his status is questionable. Senior Miles Taylor replaced him in the lineup last week. Defensive tackle Matt Nelson (undisclosed) and cornerback Manny Rugamba (ankle) missed time last week. Ferentz said after the game he didn’t think those two would miss time.
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The Hawkeyes are eager to flush the Wisconsin result out of their systems. Everyone Iowa probably walked away from Sunday’s video review with one play that seared their soul. For quarterback Nate Stanley, whose pass efficiency last week was a career-low 39.4, more than 65 points below his previous low (Michigan State), it was a second-half interception by linebacker T.J. Edwards.
“Obviously, I know I can make that throw,” Stanley said. “Obviously, he made a great play on that ball. It’s frustrating.”
So, Iowa will be working this out in front of their grandmothers. Literally.
Senior linebacker Josey Jewell talked on the phone Monday night with his grandmother, Rosie Jewell. She’s 91, so making it to Kinnick isn’t the easiest thing. This week will be her first chance to watch her grandson play at Kinnick.
“She called me yesterday and told me about it,” Jewell said. “At the end, she said, ‘Make sure you say hi to Bo.’ She’s cool. It’ll be cool to have her there. Hopefully, she enjoys it and doesn’t get too cold.”
Of course, this is kidding. Iowa’s senior linebackers Jewell, Bower and Ben Niemann are three-year starters. They finish each others’ sentences and their grandmothers appreciate linebacker play. Apparently.
Bower has visited the Jewell farm many, many times. He’s met Rosie Jewell and happily accepts the mantle as her favorite player.
“Oh yeah,” he said laughing. “I’m her favorite. 100 percent. She’s an unbelievable woman. I haven’t seen her in a while and it’s going to be great to see her. That’s really cool.”
The whole idea of senior day is cool.
Niemann’s dad, Jay, won’t make it. He’s the defensive coordinator at Rutgers. He’ll be trying to win at Indiana on Saturday. His mom, Lou Ann, will be there and his brother, Nick, has to be there. He’s a redshirt freshman linebacker and special teamer for the Hawkeyes.
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“It’s going to be an emotional time. I’ll probably cry, honestly,” he said. When seniors reach this point — 18 will jog out of the tunnel and meet their parents on Saturday — the talk often turns to the future. Niemann will pour everything into he can into trying to make it into the NFL. If it doesn’t work out, one option the sports and recreation major would consider is coaching high school football. He was very specific when he said high school.
“I’m not going to get into college football,” Niemann said. “My dad has kind of steered me the opposite direction.”
The Hawkeyes senior who’s led the team in growth is running back Akrum Wadley. After a nice debut as a redshirt freshman in 2014, Wadley started 2015 with a Facebook invite to the entire UI class of 2017 for an all-campus rocker. It ended with a disorderly house ticket and some explaining.
Asked about that on Tuesday, Wadley started shaking his head and laughed.
“I learned from that,” Wadley said with a straight face. “That was about decisions. I’ve grown each year.”
Do you look back at that one and laugh a little bit?
“I always look back at that and laugh,” Wadley said. “Learned a lesson.”
And now look at him. Wadley will have a degree in the spring. He also needs 216 yards to become Iowa’s first running back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since Fred Russell in 2002-03. Wadley would be just the fourth Iowa running back to do that (Sedrick Shaw, Ladell Betts and Russell).
Dating back to 2014, this senior class is 21-11 in the Big Ten. That’s the fourth-most Big Ten wins for a class in Ferentz’s 19 seasons (2005 class won 25; ’04 won 24 and the 2016 class won 23).
These numbers kind of sneak up on you. Kind of like senior day.
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