Josey Jewell's Iowa life
IOWA CITY — Poop was always going to be part of the lore with Josey Jewell. He grew up on a turkey farm outside of Decorah. Poop was always going to be part of the story.
Giggle, giggle, he said poop. You know this is a significant chapter in a life that helped deliver to the Iowa football team one of the best defensive players the program has ever had.
It’s not a far-out theory that chasing turkeys on Jewell Century Farms had a hand in this.
“Maybe chasing them when I was younger,” Jewell said with a laugh. “We’d screw around with them a little bit. You’d run after them and try to chase them back into the barn at nighttime. We usually let them out after eight weeks or so during the day. At nighttime, you’d have to bring them back in, so no owls or any predators get them and you’re chasing them in.
“Sometimes, they’ll change direction on you really quick. Sometimes, you’ll slip and fall and you’re falling on poop.”
Back to how this relates to being a two-time all-Big Ten linebacker.
“Maybe a little bit of agility.”
And maybe a little balance because, you know, turkey poop.
“You don’t really want to fall down. It’s like missing a tackle, you know. Really connecting the two.”
It’s the last game at Kinnick for 18 seniors Saturday. They’ve done a lot of winning. And they’ve read a lot of cues from Jewell, who’ll be the first three-year captain during Kirk Ferentz’s 19 seasons as head coach.
This week, Jewell was named one of five finalists for the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Trophy. That is presented annually to the nation’s most outstanding defensive player.
Josey Jewell comes with lore. Why do we know so much of that lore? Because he’s been a damn good football player and he is one of us. No, not all Iowans are farmers, but a lot of Iowans aren’t that far removed from the farm.
Life on the farm
Connections between football and being raised on a turkey farm on the Upper Iowa River, 14-year-old Jewell probably wishes he had a helmet and gloves for the loading of the turkeys.
It’s 3 or 4 in the afternoon. You have to wait until evening to move turkeys because they’re flightier and fightier during daylight. There are approximately 20,000 birds that need to go into nine semi-trucks. The birds are around 20 pounds and they will fight you. A wing to the face isn’t a 15-yard penalty on the farm.
“It’s a taxing job when you’re trying to throw 2,000 birds to a truckload a side,” said Robbie Jewell, soon to be 26 and happily working on the family farm after graduating from Luther College in 2014. “The birds are 20 pounds. You’re lifting 20 pounds 2,000 times, it adds up.”
The Jewells try to raise two to three flocks a year. Nine semis and the work isn’t done until 1 or 2 a.m.
You can’t just muscle them into the crates, either. Bruised birds get knocked down a grade.
“We want them as calm as possible, so when we try to load them in there, it’s not necessarily graceful because you have to be quick about it,” Robbie said. “There’s a fine line. You can’t be too rough with them, but you can’t be too soft with them or they’ll take advantage of you.”
It might seem like farming is an app to make you better at football, but Bobby and Paula Jewell preached the value of outdoors and playing. Decorah Parks and Recreation had a role in this. Flag football, baseball, soccer, whatever it had to offer the four Jewell kids — Jess, Samantha, Robbie and Josey — jumped in.
Yes, four kids, all three years apart. Family also might be considered a football training app.
Being the oldest, no one bothered Jess. Samantha and the brothers, that was another story. Keep in mind, at parent-teacher conferences once, a teacher let Bobby know that Samantha was “a little rough on the boys.”
For whatever reason, these matches always started in the basement. Samantha would have either Robbie or Josey pinned against the wall, and then ...
“It’s the craziest thing,” Bobby said. “One of the boys could be outside, in the garage or up in a tree, and the other would be inside fighting with her in the house and it would be like sonar. The brother would sense a problem and come running. She was throwing one of them against the basement wall and the other would jump on her back and start biting her neck.
“It was the craziest thing. She was so much bigger at that time. They were just like a couple of hyenas. My wife would get mad at me for not stopping it right away.”
Let the record show ... “They (Jess and Sam) put a whuppin’ on us,” Robbie said. “They were both bigger than us for a long time. We didn’t mess with Jess. We’d try tag teaming Sam. We all got along for the most part, but, yeah, there were a lot of times when we were fighting.”
Not falling in turkey poop, enduring whuppings from your older sister, check and check. Josey probably used a little of that in his football journey, which this season includes 104 tackles (leading the Big Ten, fourth in the nation and with just nine games played).
Jewell has led Iowa in tackles in each of the last two seasons (126 in 2015, 124 in 2016). He needs 11 to become the third Hawkeye to record 115 or more tackles in three seasons (Abdul Hodge, 1983-85, and Larry Station, 1983-85).
Jewell’s career total stands at 405 tackles, sixth all-time in program history.
In addition to the Nagurski, Jewell is one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award. He’s a semifinalist for the Lott IMPACT Award, the Butkus Award and Bednarik Award.
If it feels like Jewell was made for this, he kind of was.
The family connection
Robert Jewell was a stud fullback for Decorah High School in 1947. He was recruited by Iowa and headed that way. Before he arrived, a brain tumor was discovered. He spent a few months in the hospital. Doctors said he wouldn’t live to see 60. Robert Jewell died before the Wisconsin game in 2015 at the age of 86.
Bobby Jewell said his dad and Josey are “mirror images.” Stoics. In the hills of northern Iowa and southwest Wisconsin, there’s a saying for the strong, silent types.
“He wouldn’t say (bleep) if he had a mouthful,” Bobby Jewell said.
The family connection with Iowa football started with Robert. Saturday is Josey’s last game at Kinnick Stadium. The connection runs deep.
“That makes the story so much better where the family is concerned,” Bobby said. “We feel like grandpa was able to visualize his somewhat through his grandson’s eyes. It meant a lot to us. We miss him dearly. I wish he was here to see some of this stuff. I think he’s watching.”
This leads to the first time someone saw Josey as an Iowa football player.
Josey was 4. He was moving an auger and pushed on the wheel.
“Of course, he laid on the wheel and I turned my head for a second and when I looked back he had gone over the top of the wheel,” Bobby said. “He landed out in front with his wrist in an awkward position. He had two surgeries and, oh my god, it was terrible.”
For some crazy reason, Bobby Jewell thought he ruined his son’s football career. “I don’t know why we were thinking football at age 4, but that’s what we were thinking,” Bobby said.
This was December 1998. During the wait at the hospital, the TV in the family room had Kirk Ferentz all over it. He had just been named Iowa’s head coach.
“For the life of me, I don’t know why I thought it, maybe I was looking for something positive in a very negative situation,” Bobby said. “I’m thinking maybe he could play for this man some day. Here we are.”
Sounds as if this was the only broken bone for Josey Jewell while growing up.
Rural adventures and sweaty questions
Some of this stuff, no, it just doesn’t fit with being an all-Big Ten linebacker. It fits under a daredevil’s job description.
There was the giant slip-n-slide. The Jewells set that up on their land a couple of different years. Big hill, fast ride. Into a pond with hay bails serving as the guardrail.
There was that time Robbie made a water skiing rig for the back of a pickup truck and he and Josey did some wakeboarding on the Upper Iowa (there’s a “River Runs Through It” thing with the brothers and the Upper Iowa, so many times in their lives they sprinted off the school bus and jumped into the river with shoes and shorts looking for smallies).
Yes, the pickup truck served as the boat, up on the embankment, for that adventure.
There was the tubing rope hooked up to a water tube attached to the back of a snowmobile for, well, snow tubing. Robbie drove. Josey was riding with a snowmobile helmet and snowpants.
“Anything stupid, you name it, we’ve probably done it,” Robbie said. “We’re lucky we made it out alive.”
(At this point, you probably want to go back in time and introduce these two to the tranquillity of video games, but, yeah, right. Like that ever would’ve stuck.)
Farm life comes with animals of all sorts, some of them you don’t want around.
There was the dog that bit him one day and then on the next, the two had a stare down with Josey eventually yelling, “Bite me.”
A tomcat found its way into the turkey barn and did a number on the birds. Josey’s uncle got a gun and stuck it in the crack of the door. Below the gun, Robbie and Josey sat. They saw the shot and the cat flip something like six feet in the air and do a flip.
That looked fun to Josey.
“Josey’s mouth opened and he said, ‘Shoot me next, shoot me next!!’” Bobby said. “What in the hell is he talking about?”
This might sound like some sort of dating contest, win a date with the linebacker who wanted to bite a dog and get shot into the air, but, sorry, Josey is getting married.
He was a sophomore at Decorah when he started dating Micole Lansing, who was a freshman at South Winneshiek. In March, he popped the question and it was a yes.
Of course, it was midfield at Kinnick Stadium. But how?
Micole had a classmate who was trying to fill her photography portfolio, specifically couples photos. It was a mutual friend of the two. Josey contacted her through Facebook and set up the Kinnick moment. Micole had no idea.
In hindsight, however, there was one pretty big clue.
“I could tell he was nervous,” said Micole, who’s studying to be a sonographer. “It’s funny, I came home from clinic for lunch that day. He was in his room and he was sweaty, like so bad. I said, ‘What is going on? Why are you sweating so bad?’ I didn’t think anything of it. He said, ‘Oh, I had to give a presentation in class,’ or something like that. I didn’t even give it a second thought.
“I was like, ‘OK, hopefully you can relax for pictures.’”
Senior year of college is time for the questions that make a man sweat.
Josey Jewell is on an NFL path. He looked into it after last season, didn’t like what he heard and came back for his senior season. He’ll graduate with an environmental studies/business degree. He made an entrepreneurial class project into a potential future business, Outlaw Farming Technologies.
There’s the NFL and there’s the family farm. Who knows what else could be out there for the three-time academic all-Big Ten selection.
Robbie wanted to get back to the farm after school. He’s shown his dad what a drone can do for a farmer, saving time and showing seed corn clients the crops. Robbie also is pushing his dad on no-till farming and biomimicry, where cows follow their instincts and eat in a pack, with, of course, their waste fertilizing the land. This would fit hand in glove with Josey’s push for GPS and shock devices to track the animals.
NFL? Which agent? The family farm? Some business opportunity? This is the sweaty question right now for Josey Jewell.
Josey Jewell was all over the field for Iowa on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/XoOyupczeI— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) November 5, 2017
“Seems like the sky is the limit right now for him and his situation,” Robbie Jewell said. “I’m sure it’s a lot of pressure. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone wants to put the cart in front of the horse. If the NFL is there, I think he’d take it. Some people would say he’d be stupid not to ...
“Dad and I have asked him. ‘If that doesn’t work out or when that’s over, what are your thoughts? Are you going to want to come back to the farm?’ We never really get a straight answer.”
"Seems like the sky is the limit right now for him and his situation."
- Robbie Jewell
On brother Josey Jewell's future
And Bobby with the truth bomb here.
“I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you he’d come down here a lot of times kicking and screaming,” he said. “He didn’t want to do these particular chores, but he didn’t have a choice. I think it kind of sunk in as he grew older. He’s certainly worked hard at the football thing. I’ll give him credit there. Hopefully, we had something to do with it.”
Bobby hasn’t gotten a straight answer, either.
“Maybe he can do something like this for a living and not run into people for the next few years,” Bobby said. “Neither one is a given at this point.”
Robbie is a fourth generation farmer. The Jewell Century Farms is named because it started in 1876.
“We definitely hope Josey will be back here someday, but that’s definitely his call,” Bobby said. “I don’t want him to feel like he has to, either.”
So, let’s ask Josey. Hey, there are a couple of farmers from Decorah who are looking for a recruit.
“That’s interesting,” he said. “I don’t know who that’s going to be.”
Oh yeah, Bobby did recall Josey’s line about working on the farm.
“I asked Josey flat out one day, ‘Hey, what do you think? Whenever you get done doing whatever you’re doing, you going to come back and help your brother and I on the farm?’” Bobby said. “Long pause. He looked me in the eye and say, ‘You know, dad. I think I’d like to find something where you work less and get paid more.’”
“I about lost it,” Bobby said. “Well, smart kid. When you find that, let me know.”
That thought still stands.
“Makes sense, doesn’t it?” Josey said.
But then Robbie’s theory is his brother will hate any sort of office job. But then Josey recalls loading turkeys on the semi.
“It’s awful,” Josey said. “That’s another reason why you don’t want to do it. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to love everything about it if you want to do it. That’s for sure. I like some parts about farming, but not all of them.”
No pressure. No assumptions. And no straight answer.
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