INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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No. 7 ... Iowa has four returning starters on the defensive line. That is a great thing for any college football team. Even better for Louis Trinca-Pasat is that his running mate at defensive tackle, Carl Davis, has gotten most of the preseason notice. If you’re not in the Iowa inner-circle, you see the see and hear the 6-3, 290-pound senior as a quiet guy who uses few words but gets his point across. Inside Iowa, the players know Trinca-Pasat as one of the team’s most wicked jokers.
Last season, former Iowa linebacker James Morris recounted a story where Trinca-Pasat actually pulled off one of those water bucket, door, splash down practical jokes. That’s good stuff.
The outside world gets this. In the wake of Iowa’s dominating physical victory last year at Minnesota, Trinca-Pasat described what the defense’s goal was: “We knew we had to come out ready to go. If we didn’t, they were going to run right up our butts ... We just went out and played. We didn’t do any talking or anything. We just let the play do the talking. We were feeding off the energy on the plays we were making.”
Trinca-Pasat missed spring practice 2013 after shoulder surgery. He played some of the 2012 season with a torn rotator cuff. He missed some practices this spring because he’s in graduate school studying educational leadership (he graduated from Iowa with a degree in sports studies and a 4.2 GPA).
“I had a lot of extra film study with coach Morgan [D-line coach Reese Morgan],” he said.
Trinca-Pasat is the DT who’s having the quiet preseason. And that’s fine by him. He knows Iowa’s D-line will have high expectations this season. The fight is buying even into a single paragraph of what is written during the run-up to the Northern Iowa game on Aug. 30.
“Coach Morgan is doing a great job of making sure we don’t fall into complacency,” Trinca-Pasat said. “Our own mind set is we have a lot to prove and a lot to work on. We haven’t done anything yet.”
No, that’s not the first time you’ve heard an Iowa D-lineman say that in this series. DE Drew Ott said the same. That is their mantra, that is the message they’re buying into.
Production ... Trinca-Pasat finished 10th on the team with 39 tackles last season. He finished third on the Hawkeye with nine tackles for loss. He had two sacks and broke up two passes.
He also led the Hawkeyes in putting a stake into Northwestern in overtime.
On fourth-and-8 in overtime, Trinca-Pasat and Davis ran a perfect twist. Davis picked both of Northwestern’s inside blockers and Trinca-Pasat spun free and had Northwestern QB Kain Colter in reach.
He whiffed and ended up splayed. Colter was free, with Northwestern needing a TD to tie the game.
“Louis took his shot and created a conflict for the offense,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said after the game. “Other players started flowing. You have to take your shot and then everyone else has to go to the ball.”
Trinca-Pasat took his shot and ended up on his stomach. His shot didn’t stop there.
He popped right back up. Defensive end Drew Ott fought through a block and held contain. Trinca-Pasat caught Colter from behind.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Davis said. “He won’t quit on the play. He’s just always going. He gives great effort.”
Not tapping out ... Trinca-Pasat started his career as a undersized defensive tackle. How undersized? He played some wide receiver during his career at Chicago’s Lane Tech High School. This was the ultimate test for his body and his mind.
In December 2011, before Iowa’s appearance in the Insight Bowl against Oklahoma, Trinca-Pasat had some serious doubts.
“There was a period right after Thanksgiving, I think it might have been,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He had gone home and came in and said, basically, he wasn’t sure about playing. I thought it was a mistake certainly, so I encouraged him to take a couple of days away from it. I think he missed two practices.”
When you consider the road Trinca-Pasat took to two-gap defensive tackle at Iowa, you do have to squint to see it.
First, Trinca-Pasat’s parents, Estera and Vasile, are from Romania. They’ve been in the states for just 20 years, and Louis is the only one of their five children born here. So, there’s that.
Mainly, he played defensive end and tight end at Lane Tech. Trinca-Pasat only started playing football when he was a high school freshman. He caught eight TD passes as a senior.
He arrived at Iowa in January of 2010, an early enrollee and a bona fide defensive tackle project at 235 or so pounds.
“You have to eat healthy, eat protein. You have to lift,” Trinca-Pasat said. “All of it eventually adds up. It’s been about two years now. It takes some time getting used to the weight, but it’s coming along.”
Now, Trinca-Pasat is a legit 290 and his only thoughts are on the next play.
“I never really understood that myself,” Trinca-Pasat said. “I know a lot of the older guys, like [former Hawkeyes] Karl [Klug] and Mike Daniels, they told me to take some time to get used to your weight.
“At first, you put on the weight and you’re a little off balance. You might be a little slower than normal. The conditioning also takes some time, but once you reach that weight and consistently working with it, it starts to come naturally.
“It feels like I’m playing at 243 again.”
Outlook ... Expect LTP turned up to 11 this fall. The motor that has made him a playmaker for Iowa’s defense will be full-bore. His quickness and strength should pair perfectly with Davis’ 6-5, 315-pound body and power. Iowa has a chance to field the best defensive tackle tandem in the Big Ten.
Trinca-Pasat will have gone from a player with one foot out of the door to a three-year starter. Just keep the “best defensive tackle tandem in the Big Ten” talk quiet. They’ll tell you they haven’t done anything yet.
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