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CHICAGO — Two of the three players Iowa brought to Chicago for Big Ten media days are on the 2016 schedule poster. The third is the first junior invited to the event in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 18 seasons.
It wasn’t always posters and first-evers for quarterback C.J. Beathard, cornerback Desmond King and linebacker Josey Jewell during their careers at Iowa.
During Beathard’s first season as a Hawkeye, Iowa finished 4-8. He was a 170-pound true freshman on a team that lost its last six games in 2012. Despite that 4-8 finish, King and Jewell still committed to Iowa. King saw opportunity. Jewell chased a dream.
Sure, now it’s posters and first-evers. Then, it was strong mentors and hard physical lessons.
Did you know quarterbacks who run the scout team are fair game? Beathard knows.
“Trust me, when I redshirted and I played scout team, those guys didn’t give a crap if they hit you or not,” the senior said during Big Ten media days on Tuesday.
Former Iowa linebacker James Morris was the one who didn’t care. The all-Big Ten and former New York Giant didn’t go half speed with young Beathard.
“He did not care, he was going to try to hit you,” said Beathard, who earned second-team all-Big Ten while leading Iowa to a 12-2 record and a Rose Bowl appearance last season. “James Morris was the worst. He didn’t care, he was going to hit you. Kirksey and Hitch (Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens, the other Iowa linebackers from 2012-13) were nicer. Morris was a nice dude, but on the field, he didn’t care at all, and he would try to lay you out even if you were the quarterback. You were scout team, so it didn’t matter.
“When I ran through a hole, I’d be like ‘Where’s James at?’” Beathard said. “I didn’t want to get randomly hit by him. I learned quickly.”
On the other hand, Beathard credited Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens for showing him how to be a Big Ten football player.
“Guys like Hitchens, Kirksey and Morris, when they were coming through, they did it the right way,” Beathard said. “They were smart guys. Micah Hyde (former Iowa cornerback now with the Packers), guys like that, you learned from how they handled themselves and how they did things. They were successful with what they did. You could model yourself off those guys.”
King had offers from Wisconsin, Indiana and host of Mid-American Conference schools. He looked at Iowa, with the 4-8 and everything, and saw opportunity.
“Opportunity, the stability of the coaching staff,” King said. “Also, getting away from home. It was a place I could focus on myself and get things together with school. It was an opportunity to play ball.”
King listed former Iowa cornerback B.J. Lowery, who’s signed with the Denver Broncos, as a mentor along with Kirksey.
“Those guys were on me every day, making sure I did the daily details and doing things the right way,” King said.
The physical lessons? King listed off a sprint relay of speedy former Iowa wide receivers — Damond Powell, Don Shumpert, Tevaun Smith and Kevonte Martin-Manley.
“They made me better day in and day out,” King said. “They were crazy fast. There was a lot of competitiveness going back and forth between us. There’d be some frustration, but we were trying to make each other better.”
Jewell might’ve come into the best mentorship situation. Hitchens, Kirksey and Morris were there.
“They showed you how to lead, the things you need to do on and off the field, your daily disciplines,” Jewell said. “Nutrition, sleep and recovery, things like that. They were things they wanted to teach you. They weren’t like, ‘Screw you.’ They could’ve been like that and just worried about themselves, but they were worried about the future team and the future teams coming down the road.”
Jewell is linebacker. Yes, there were physical lessons. Most of those came from former offensive tackle Brett Van Sloten, a fellow Decorah native.
“It was ‘little brother, big brother’ syndrome,” Ferentz said. “Brett used to take unmerciful cheap shots on Josey. I knew what he was doing. I had seen the brother act before. That was all like, ‘OK, I’m passing this on to you, you’re going to be one of our better players, so toughen up.’”
That’s where this comes full circle. James Morris schooled scout-team Beathard physicality. Jewell passed that down to Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook, last year’s scout team quarterbacks.
“It’s funny hearing their stories,” Beathard said. “They’ll be down there on their side of the practice field with the defense and then they’ll come over at the end. They’ll be like, ‘It was crazy. Josey drilled me today. He totally took me out.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I remember when I was down there.’ That’s part of it. You learn.”
This is the tried-and-true path to a poster or a first-ever.
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