Iowa Football

The Hawkeye Paulsens: From Climbing Hill, Iowa, to Kinnick Stadium

Levi and Landan Paulsen played Class A football and their dad taught them how to lift

Levi and Landan Paulsen at Iowa football media day in August. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Levi and Landan Paulsen at Iowa football media day in August. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Woodbury Central High School covers a few different towns in northwest Iowa. OK, it’s just two. You might’ve heard of Moville.

It’s a bustling 1,613 people.

The other town is Climbing Hill. It’s 97 people, more or less. This is where Levi and Landan Paulsen’s parents (Michelle and Dan) are from.

“I can’t leave out Climbing Hill. My grandma will not have it,” Levi Paulsen said. “That’s where my parents are from. Moville and Climbing Hill make up Woodbury Central and Climbing Hill is only about 30 people.”

The Paulsen twins will play in their final home game as Hawkeyes, with Illinois (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) coming to Kinnick Stadium Saturday to meet up with No. 17 Iowa (7-3, 4-3).

They’ll gear up with teammates, play in a Big Ten stadium and push for the Hawkeyes, be it on the field or on the sideline or in whatever capacity possible.

It hasn’t been 100 career starts and all-Big Ten for the 6-5, 305 pounders. And yet this week, they couldn’t say enough about their time as Hawkeyes.

They came to Iowa City as effervescent mini-mountains of joy ...

“One of my favorite memories of both those guys was talking to them on the phone on a Thursday like 6:00, 5:30, something like that,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They were working the popcorn stand, I believe of the volleyball game at their high school. The girls were playing volleyball, and those guys were working the popcorn stand. I think they had band practice at 6:00 the next morning, Friday morning.

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“I was just chuckling, ‘These guys are beautiful, they do everything in that school.’”

... And they’ll leave that way.

In February during the UI’s Dance Marathon, a student-run event that annually raises money to fight childhood cancer, the Paulsens had their long hair chopped off after raising $15,000 in donations.

We need to define “successful careers” a little differently here. We also need to appreciate the scale of the jump they made from Woodbury Central, a Class A high school program in Iowa, to the University of Iowa and the Big Ten.

They’re from Moville with an assist from Climbing Hill, and they’re from Class A Iowa football. Woodbury Central had a weight room, but no one really knew how to use the equipment. The Paulsens ended up helping teammates learn how to lift and train.

How did they know what they were doing? Good story.

The Paulsens moved into Moville from Swea City when they were in first grade. Their dad helped their grandfather put a tin roof on a house. Grandpa consistently outworked dad. This kind of drove dad nuts.

“My grandpa is 60-something at the time and my dad is like, ‘I’m gassed,’” Landan Paulsen said. “Dad thought he needed to get into shape, so he ordered ‘Muscle and Fitness” magazine. He started to teach himself how to lift and he lost 40 pounds. ‘I’m not having my dad outwork me again, old man strength or whatever.’”

Dan Paulsen walked his sons through their first steps of lifting weights.

“We had a first-class weight room at Woodbury Central, but we didn’t have a strength coach, so he would take us in,” Landan said. “He wouldn’t let us put any weight on the bar at first. He didn’t want us doing anything wrong.”

There also was their summer job, baling hay, of course. Growing up, they put up between 1,500 and 2,000 bales for Weaver Ranches and other custom baling jobs. They did it old school, too, walking behind the hay wagon and grabbing the bale and tossing it on board.

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“You couldn’t start early in the morning because the hay was still wet,” Landan said, probably remembering a little bit of the pain. “Then, it got to be 11, when it was hot. You’d work for an hour and half and then about 12 bells, every day, they’d make lunch for you. That’s just what they did back in the day, that’s an old-time thing.”

If your small-town Iowa high school football team is healthy, it all starts with the water boys. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley’s first duty on a football field? Waterboy. The Paulsens? Of course, water boys.

They did that for Woodbury Central and worked their ways up to become all-state linemen and state champion wrestlers.

One thing both Paulsens were quick to point out while talking about their hometown was the fact that Woodbury Central made it to the Class A state semifinals in the UNI-Dome this season. It was the school’s first playoff game in the Dome in 39 years. There was a pep rally on the Thursday before the game and school was canceled on the Friday after. It was 39 years, so, yes, it was a big deal.

The Wildcats fell to top-ranked and eventual state champion West Hancock, but it’s progress. For the Paulsens, it was fun to see the kids who were water boys when they played take the reins and make a run.

“We never had the opportunity to do that,” Landan said. “That’s a testament to the coaching staff and how they do things. Some of the coaches now were teammates of mine. They did a great job. It’s a little weird to think about being the old guy.”

Trying to think of some other examples of Hawkeyes from Climbing Hill. Coming up empty.

“To think that maybe in the backs of our minds that we sparked some inspiration or drive in the hearts of some young guys,” Levi said, “that is pretty cool. For those guys to make it to the semifinals and the Dome is unbelievable.

“For a school and a community school district of like 38 students — that’s what we graduated with — to really think that maybe these older guys, Landan and Levi Paulsen — maybe! — set their minds to something and went and got it ... to see them maybe draw some confidence or some drive from that, that does mean a lot.”

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Maybe the Paulsens had an influence here. Maybe the attention they’ve earned as Hawkeyes brought a little extra oomph into practice or the weight room.

Maybe.

For certain, the Paulsens showed you can get to Kinnick Stadium from Climbing Hill, Iowa.

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

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