ARTICLE

'Believe' always has carried Iowa's George Kittle

From 190 pounds and KCRG-TV9 camera intern, senior tight end refuses to yield

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end George Kittle (46) is unable to reach the end zone after being taken down at the 1 yard line by Purdue Boilermakers cornerback Antonio Blackmon (25) during the first half of a game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, October 15, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end George Kittle (46) is unable to reach the end zone after being taken down at the 1 yard line by Purdue Boilermakers cornerback Antonio Blackmon (25) during the first half of a game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, October 15, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — This was the scene of a massacre. Actually, this setting was somehow more frightening than the field that produced a 41-14 defeat for the Hawkeyes.

It was rounding toward midnight in Beaver Stadium. In the stadium underbelly, a table with bags of food were set out for the Hawkeyes. The lighting was shadowy. Machines that cleared garbage whirred in the background, creating an ominous hum.

Iowa had just suffered its worst loss of the season at the hands of Penn State. The was the time where you see players shuffle the same six words during the postgame and then sleepwalk to the bus and then to the plane and then back home in Iowa City.

Senior tight end George Kittle put down his gear and faced the cameras. You could immediately see his mind was on fire. His eyes were embers. He was locked into everything that went wrong during the game.

 

The senior tight end, who’s been limited the last few games with an ankle/foot injury suffered four weeks ago, had something he wanted to say.

“I fully believe that every game I go into — I have since I was a little kid — that I’m going to win the game,” Kittle said. “I don’t care who I’m playing. Next week we’re playing Michigan. I fully believe that I’m going to win that game and we will. It’s hard for me, it’s hard for this team, just to not show up like this. I don’t really have the words to explain it.”

Last week’s loss dropped Iowa to 5-4 (3-3 in the Big Ten). Michigan comes into Saturday night's game at Kinnick at 9-0 (6-0 B1G) and No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

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The Wolverines have some mean and massive blowouts on their 2016 resume, including a 78-0 victory at Rutgers and last week’s 59-3 rout of Maryland. Everyone college football wants an accurate assessment of their team. You can only hide behind Miami (Ohio) and Purdue for so long.

The Hawkeyes have been found wanting against two ranked teams already this season (No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 10 Penn State). Going back to the final two games of 2015, Iowa has dropped four straight to ranked teams. Michigan might be the best of that bunch.

The motivation is to put up a representative effort, to not get dragged up and down the field like a blocking sled.

Kittle’s message was clear. He won’t yield to defeat.

“Motivation?” he asked. “I want to win. I know this team wants to win. That’s going to be our motivation.”


 
The cameras have followed Kittle since he arrived in Iowa City. Wait, reverse that.

Kittle will graduate in December with a degree in communications and a minor in business entrepreneurship. The Kittles have deep roots in Iowa. His dad, Bruce, was an offensive lineman at Iowa, a four-year letterman and co-captain of the 1982 Rose Bowl team. His mom, Jan, was a star athlete at Winfield-Mount Union. Basketball was her best sport. She’s in the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union hall of fame and scored 1,846 points at Drake.

The Kittles have roots in Iowa, but didn’t plant roots here. George was born in Madison, Wis. He attended three different high schools as a sophomore: Iowa City West, Cedar Falls and then Norman High School in Norman, Okla., when his dad took a job on Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma staff.

So, of course, as an 18-year-old fresh from Norman, George took a summer internship at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids. Never mind that he hadn’t lived here for a while. Never mind that he was 18. There’s an intrusive nature to carrying a TV camera into state tournament softball games, which could yield one of life’s greatest moments or bitter disappointments.

Never mind that he was the same age as most of the players.

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“He’s always had an ESPN, broadcaster kind of slant,” Bruce Kittle said. “Basically, he drove all over eastern Iowa covering baseball games. He videotaped some stuff and kept track of the scores. He likes the sports angle and was thinking about an ESPN thing. He still thinks he's the next ESPN guy when he’s done playing.”

Former KCRG-TV9 sports director John Campbell, now retired, said he didn’t regularly have 18-year-old interns carrying cameras around. The guideline was interns had to be at least a sophomore or junior in college. But sports never stops and Campbell needed a shooter.

“We needed one,” said Campbell, whose list of KCRG-TV9/Hawkeyes interns includes Kittle, J.C. Love-Jordan, Paul Burmeister and Lew Montgomery. “He was a good fit. He had some experience. He’d done a few things with a camera. He was interested in sports, obviously. It worked out really well. He helped us out with some editing. It was fun to have him in there.”


 
Around the same time, Kittle had the word “Believe” tattooed on his right triceps.

In a tattoo world of dragons, panthers, swords, snakes, dice, crosses and flaming skulls and crossbones, Kittle, around his 18th birthday and before he shoved off from Norman for Iowa City, went with the word “Believe” in block letters.

Kittle picked for inspiration over, well, intimidation.

The Kittle family sets goals. Their goalsetting is probably a little different from yours.

“We’ve always been really big on visualization,” Bruce said. “After visualization, you have to believe in the vision. Part of my kids’ other educational trauma with me was, at an early age, they were required to set goals and prepare action steps for those goals.

“Part of the goalsetting process included visualizing successfully accomplishing your goals. The whole ‘Believe’ thing, part of that, too, is he’s a big Kobe Bryant fan. Kobe was big on ‘Believe.” Part of that for him (George) was coming out not very highly recruited.”

The results are there. George’s sister, Emma Krieger Kittle, played volleyball for the Hawkeyes. Before a future as a sports anchor moves into view, George will have a shot to play in the NFL. The 6-4, 252-pounder has been listed as Pro Football Focus’ top senior tight end for the 2017 draft class.

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“Believe” was there from the beginning for Kittle at Iowa.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz guided Bruce during his days as Iowa’s offensive line coach. Sure, this was an “in” for George at Iowa, but not after the Hawkeyes struck out on a pair of running backs on 2012 signing day. In the afternoon on that first Wednesday in February, Ferentz called and offered his former offensive tackle’s son a scholarship.

Everyone knew the son likely was headed toward tight end. And everyone could see he weighed around 190 pounds.

So yeah, “Believe.”

“I think that was always a reminder to always be clear about who you are as an individual and where you want to go and believe in yourself to get there,” Bruce said.

“Believe,” it’s the perfect thought for the Hawkeyes to carry Saturday night.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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