IOWA CITY — Manny Rugamba’s 2017 season feels like a gear bag sitting on a hotel chair. It’s day three of the vacation and the bag remains unzipped.
It’s week 8 and the Hawkeyes sophomore cornerback is poised to start his first back-to-back games since Sept. 16 and 23, when the Hawkeyes played host to North Texas State and Penn State. First, Rugamba was suspended from the opener against Wyoming because of a team violation. Then, he suffered a nagging ankle injury against Penn State. He sat out against Michigan State, saw one play against Illinois before hitting the ground running last week at Northwestern.
With Iowa’s secondary really in a constant state of flux, Rugamba’s solid footing is a welcome sight for everyone, including Rugamba.
“I felt like myself, but there were a few mental mistakes I had that might’ve come from not being out there,” Rugamba said. “But I felt comfortable with the team and was happy to be out there.”
Rugamba’s journey to health and back to steady playing time has been an all-too common theme for many Hawkeyes this season. From linebacker Josey Jewell to senior offensive tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers to senior running back James Butler, the Hawkeyes have and will miss a clump of key veterans every week in 2017. It’s just been one of those years that way.
If you think it’s been difficult watching your team trying to work through this, it’s been that times 10 with players who are actually locked in that struggle.
“It was a day-by-day thing,” said Rugamba, who ended 2016, his true freshman year, as a starter before suffering a broken collarbone. “One day was better than the other. Sometimes, I’d have a setback day. I wasn’t 100 percent (for Illinois), but how good it feels to be back to where I was last week is great.”
Wrestling with an injury is yet another obstacle for players. Practice, the game, video, school and, for the injured, you need to find your way to treatment and training. That’s not always easy, especially if it’s there one day and not the next.
“I tried to work as hard as I could at treatment,” Rugamba said. “I tried to get in as much as I could. I wanted to get out there and help the team.”
Now, things set up for Rugamba to show the form that flashed in 2016. You remember his first start. Greg Mabin suffered a broken bone in his ankle on Wednesday the week of Iowa’s matchup with then-No. 3 Michigan. Rugamba got his first career start under the lights at Kinnick and responded with an interception, three pass breakups and Big Ten freshman of the week honors.
If Rugamba had to use one word to describe the first half of his season ...
“Dissatisfied,” he said. “I would definitely say. You never want to be satisfied. I definitely feel like I can help this team more than I have.”
Hey, this Minnesota game kicks off at night. The stage is set.
“It’s been a little hard to get things going, especially with the suspension and two games missed with the injury,” Rugamba said. “Again, I just want to be able to help my team as much as I can. I try to do that with my level of play, I take pride in that.”
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