Iowa Football

All Iowa up front for Hawkeyes

Likely starters on offensive and defensive lines for Saturday's opener are all in-state kids

Iowa Hawkeyes DE Anthony Nelson (98) and DE Matt Nelson (96) tackle Boston College RB AJ Dillion (2) in the first half of the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York City on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. (Manish Gosalia/freelance)
Iowa Hawkeyes DE Anthony Nelson (98) and DE Matt Nelson (96) tackle Boston College RB AJ Dillion (2) in the first half of the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York City on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. (Manish Gosalia/freelance)

IOWA CITY — It’s Kallenberger, Reynolds, Render, Banwart and Ferguson across the offensive front. That’s from left tackle to right tackle, by the way.

Defensively, your front four is Nelson, Brincks, Nelson and Hesse. That’s left end to right end.

They are your expected starters Saturday for the Iowa Hawkeyes in their 2018 season opener against Northern Illinois.

Your task is to figure out what all nine of those guys have in common. If you pay even remotely close attention to Iowa football, you’ll probably nail it, perhaps quite easily.

The answer is this: every kid is from this state. They’re Iowans playing for Iowa.

“Honestly, I didn’t realize that,” said offensive lineman Levi Paulsen.

We didn’t even give you his name, but the junior from Moville likely will rotate with freshman Mark Kallenberger and senior Dalton Ferguson at the offensive tackle spots Saturday. Kallenberger is from Bettendorf, Ferguson from Solon.

Left guard Ross Reynolds is a senior from Waukee, center Keegan Render a senior from Indianola and right guard Cole Banwart a sophomore from tiny Ottosen (population 55), who played at Algona High School.

“To me, there’s just a good culture of Iowa kids here,” Render said. “Obviously, you grow up here and you always hear about Iowa football and the Iowa kids contributing to Iowa football. I think having everybody up front be an Iowa kid is something that, if there’s a good team here, usually you will see an Iowa influence down the line of scrimmage. That’s just a big indicator that we’ve got some tough guys up front that are going to compete and play hard.”

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There should be a bit of a caveat here because the starting tackles beginning in Week 2 against Iowa State will be Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson. Those two are serving team-imposed, one-game suspensions.

But Wirfs is an Iowa kid, too, from Mount Vernon. You’ve got to consider this close enough for dancing.

“I don’t know. Honestly, I think that’s a coincidence, though it’s a cool thing,” Paulsen said. “I think our coaches’ whole mentality is that they are going to put the best 11 guys out there at any given time. I truly do believe that.

“Whether somebody is better at the run game or pass protection, or just as an all-around player, I think the coaches know the schemes and people’s tendencies. At the end of the day, we as a team are just going to put our best 11 guys out there ... It just happens to be all Iowa guys this time.”

Iowa’s defensive front ranges from Western Iowa to the northeast corner of the state. Tackle Sam Brincks is a senior from Carroll Kuemper, end Parker Hesse from Waukon

The Nelsons are left end Anthony (Waukee) and right tackle Matt (Cedar Rapids Xavier). No relation, obviously.

“I think a lot of those guys have a lot of pride in what we’re doing here,” Brincks said. “For myself, I wanted to be an Iowa Hawkeye ever since I was growing up. It’s cool to see a lot of the guys I came in with from Iowa starting now and playing big roles with the team. It’s exciting. At the end of the day, all those guys want to win games, too.”

Iowa’s not a big state, obviously, and it’s impossible to sustain a major college program just on guys from here. That’s especially when you consider there’s another major college program (Iowa State) and a very good FCS program (Northern Iowa) around.

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The general belief is Iowa high schools produce a dearth of big-time skill guys, but a lot of linemen. You know, the whole farm-tough, farm-strong cliche.

This would be an example of that. An extreme example.

Kirk Ferentz is in his 20th season as head coach, and it’s believed Saturday is the first time his team will play a game in which its starting front nine guys all come from in state. It’s a mixture of recruiting players and walk-ons who have worked themselves to prominence.

“It’s hard to say (why),” Brincks said. “There are a lot of guys from out of state who are tough, too. That come in and contribute just as much. But, yeah, this makes you proud. Makes you want to be a Hawkeye.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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