Iowa Football

Former Hawkeye defensive lineman Jeff Koeppel tackled COVID-19 and prevailed

Two-time second-team All-Big Ten player had a rough go, but now "doing great"

Jeff Koeppel
Jeff Koeppel

Jeff Koeppel, a North Liberty businessman who played on Iowa’s football team from 1986 to 1989 — was a second-team All-Big Ten defensive lineman for two years — caught COVID-19 several weeks ago.

The coronavirus fought him a lot harder than an offensive lineman having his best career day.

Koeppel, 52, didn’t succumb. Now, he’s back at work as president of AAA Mechanical Contractors in North Liberty after an extended period of misery.

“Doing great,” Koeppel said. “Really good. I was down and out pretty good for 2 1/2 weeks.

“I had all the symptoms. Body aches, fever, no appetite and a headache that would not go away. And the breathing.”

It was his shortage of breath that alarmed Koeppel and his wife, prompting him to get diagnosed. He went home to deal with the virus.

“My goal was to stay out of the hospital,” he said. He quarantined, and coped.

“It lingered for so darn long,” he said. “I thought it would never end. I’d had the flu before, but this was more intense. I’d feel rotten all day.

“But I never had issues sleeping. I’d wake up feeling better, but in an hour or two it comes back. I never had a major fever. It was always between 99 and 101. I could somehow control it with Tylenol.”

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Koeppel let his Facebook friends, including former Hawkeye teammates, know about his condition. He heard from many of them after that.

“You play football with guys,” he said, “and it’s like a second family. You communicate with them your whole life.”

His position coach at Iowa, Dan McCarney, “called me every single day for 2 1/2 weeks when I really had it bad. Since then he’s called me every other day. He’s unbelievable, one of a kind.

“That really meant the world to me, especially because my dad passed away a couple years ago.”

McCarney said “Jeff has always been one of my favorites. He was undersized (for a major-college defensive lineman) at Urbandale High School. Iowa State told him he was too small. I never let him forget that when we played Iowa State, and he always played well against them.”

McCarney, living in Sarasota, Fla., had just finished a phone call with Koeppel on Friday when he returned my call to him.

“(Koeppel) has been through hell,” McCarney said. “He’s a living example of how horrible this disease is. He’s doing really, really well now, fortunately.

“From the beginning, he didn’t know if it would get worse, would he need to go in the hospital, would he need to go on a ventilator. Thank God he got a lot better.”

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Koeppel co-owns AAA Mechanical with his sister and brother. They also contracted the coronavirus, he said, but their symptoms weren’t as severe and their recoveries were swifter. He said the three of them aren’t sure how they caught it.

Koeppel said none of their employees have been affected. Sanitizing and social distancing measures in his business’ building are being strictly enforced.

“Trying do our best, not calling any meetings, staying away from each other,” he said.

Koeppel hasn’t played football in about three decades, but McCarney said you don’t stop using what sports give you. Before coming to Iowa, Koeppel was a two-time high school wrestling state champion for Urbandale.

“If you were an athlete,” McCarney said, “you get to apply the things you learned, like courage, perseverance, mental toughness and resolve in trying to win that battle.

If you’re in the low-information crowd who dismisses the clout of COVID-19, some guys tougher than you would argue otherwise. McCarney said he’s a serious social distancer.

Koeppel? Like everyone else who has tested positive for the virus and recovered, he wants nothing resembling a rematch.

He sure sounded good and grateful on the phone. Full of life.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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