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Iowa football notes: Plewa’s Badger connection, series history, Willies’ status
Nov. 18, 2014 5:03 pm, Updated: Nov. 18, 2014 5:46 pm
IOWA CITY - Iowa fullback Macon Plewa grew up in Wisconsin, the grandson of a Badger football player. There's no mistaking that Plewa's grandfather, Don VanderVelden, cheer for his grandson, but his Wisconsin roots run deep as well.
'He always said, while I'm on the Hawkeyes, he's a Hawkeye fan,” Plewa said. 'He's been very supportive. Everybody in my family, they're all Iowa all the way. They're on my side, which is good.”
VanderVelden earned letters with the Badgers in 1960 and 1961. His name appeared once in The Gazette as part of the Badgers' 1960 season preview, a year removed from a Rose Bowl appearance.
'With the kind of team we may have,” Wisconsin Coach Milt Bruhn told The Gazette's Gus Schrader, 'it's at least fortunate we have 3 fine punters - Jim Bakken, John Fabry and Don VanderVelden. We'll probably need them.”
There's no question the Hawkeyes need Plewa. The 6-foot-2, 236-pound junior has started two games but he missed four games because of a shoulder injury. He's a solid blocker as demonstrated by the way he sprung Mark Weisman to three touchdown runs against Northwestern.
Plewa followed the Badgers as a youth, but reiterates he was more of a Packers fan. Initially he was interested in playing for the Badgers out of high school.
'I thought about it and I had some talks with their coaches but it didn't work out,” Plewa said. 'That's what led me here, to chase this opportunity.
'I had a couple opportunities, but I really had my heart set on going Division I, which led me to focus on that. So that kind of shut down on everything else. I just focused on a Division I entry.”
Wisconsin leads Iowa 43-42-2 entering their 88th meeting on Saturday. Since 2004 they've played for the Heartland Trophy, and the trophy series is tied 4-4.
The schools have played each other all but four years from 1937 through the present. When the Big Ten added Penn State in 1993, the teams cycled off one another's schedule for two seasons. The league then changed its scheduling policy to allow every school to play two others annually.
When the Big Ten split into the competitively equal Legends and Leaders divisions for 2011 and 2012, Wisconsin and Iowa were placed in opposite divisions. Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez and Iowa counterpart Gary Barta fought a losing battle to preserve the annual series. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers this year, the Big Ten revamped the divisions geographically, which pushed Iowa and Wisconsin into the same division.
The campuses are located about 175 miles apart, which makes it a convenient drive for opposing fans. The historic aspect of the rivalry is not lost upon Wisconsin Coach Gary Andersen, who is in his second season in Madison.
'There's rivalry games and then there's trophy games, and I would say right now one of our three is a trophy game (Nebraska) and the other two (Iowa and Minnesota) are rivalry games,” Andersen said. 'One of them is this week, and we're very excited about it. I know the kids on their side will be, our kids on our side will be. It's great for the fans, and it has a little extra edge to it.
'I think it's important in rivalries that there is respect on both sides, by the players and by the coaches and how we represent ourselves, because you know your rivals better than you know any other teams within the conference. That's something I've always believed in. We have a great deal of respect for Iowa, just as we do for Minnesota, and we're excited to play these rivalry games and they're two very good programs fighting for a championship just like we are.”
Former Iowa wide receiver Derrick Willies quit the football team on Oct. 27 with the intention of relocating near his ailing father. Tuesday, he released a statement to HawkeyeReport.com intending to rejoin the football team.
'I'm a Hawkeye,” Willies said. 'I thought I was putting my family first. Only after time did I realize I'm leaving my family here ... my team. It's a lot to deal all at once ... when the man you look up to your whole life tells you he only has a little time left. My father is going to move here and I am going to try and get my place back on the team. That's all I have to say on everything.”
Willies' statement caught Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz off guard during the weekly Big Ten teleconference.
'(Willies) came to me several weeks ago, I believe, and said he was interested in transferring closer to home,” Ferentz said. 'That's the extent of what I know. He chose to leave the team, which we felt bad about, hate to have anybody make that decision. But we've moved on certainly and I assume he has too. We're trying to get ready for a big game right now.
Ferentz said he was unaware of Willies' intentions.
'That's news to me,” Ferentz said. 'Whatever site that was on, I must've missed it. We've actually been trying to get ready for this game.”
Willies played in five games. He caught four passes for 71 yards and scored one touchdown. As to whether Willies would be allowed to rejoin the team, Ferentz called the question 'hypothetical.”
'I hope you can understand this: I'm really kind of more focused on Wisconsin,” Ferentz said. 'Late breaking news, I just heard it three minutes ago. It's probably safe to say that for the next 11 days, I'll probably be thinking about the teams we're playing. That's where my thoughts are right now.”
WEISMAN, STANFORD DT AMONG AWARD FINALISTS
Stanford defensive tackle David Parry and Iowa running back Mark Weisman were named among 10 semifinalists for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to nation's best college football player who began his career as a walk-on.
Parry, a Marion native who graduated from Linn-Mar, has started eight games at nose tackle for the Cardinal this year. He has 24 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and two sacks. He has helped Stanford's defense hold opponents to 106.2 yards per game on the ground, ranking ninth nationally.
Weisman, who hails from Buffalo Grove, Ill., leads Iowa in rushing with 676 yards and 14 touchdowns, which ranks fifth in Iowa history for a single season. Weisman has 2,466 career yards and 30 touchdowns.
For more information go to www.burlsworthtrophy.com.
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