IOWA CITY – Kirk Ferentz expects his 20th Iowa football team to ultimately be defined by how it handles whatever comes its way between now and January.
Despite some preseason challenges created by the one-game suspension of four linemen – two starting offensive tackles and two defensive tackles expected to be part of a rotation – the Hawkeye coach likes what he sees.
“The good news out of all of this in my mind is just the way the team has responded,’’ Ferentz said Friday at Iowa’s annual media day. “I couldn’t be more proud and happy with the way the guys have handled this whole thing. I think there is a real strong commitment to move forward and do it the right way.’’
That extends from the players who will miss the Hawkeyes’ Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Illinois – Alaric Jackson, Tristan Wirfs, Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff – to teammates who are preparing to take the field without them.
The suspensions follow the offseason departure of nine other players from the program, players with experience ranging from being part of the starting lineup to struggling to work their way up the depth chart.
Combined, the situations have left the Hawkeye roster and depth chart in a state of flux since the conclusion of last year’s 8-5 season with a win over Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl.
“We lean on each other to get through whatever comes our way. We have good leadership on this team. That’s the glue that holds it all together,’’ defensive end Anthony Nelson said.
Iowa has only 13 seniors on its roster this season, but the Hawkeyes insist there is no shortage of strong leaders.
Mark Kallenberger, a redshirt freshman from Bettendorf competing for a chance to fill in at one of the offensive tackle positions, points to senior center Keegan Render as an example.
“He goes about everything he does the right way. We can all learn by watching how he prepares, how he handles himself on and off the field,’’ Kallenberger said. “We don’t have a lot of seniors on the team, but they strong resources for the younger guys as we learn.’’
Ferentz senses that as well but concedes the final outcome remains unknown one week into fall camp and three weeks before the Hawkeyes kickoff their 12-game schedule.
“It’s easy to talk about things, but it’s really about going out and doing it on a daily basis, that’s what counts,’’ Ferentz said. “That’s what we’ll all find out between now and January.’’
All four suspended players will miss the opener for violating team rules and policies.
Ferentz doesn’t enjoy handing out discipline, but believes part of a coach’s responsibility is deal with those types of issues as they arise.
He said the recent issues – Wirfs and Reiff dealing with alcohol-related charges and Jackson and Lattimore dealing with team policy violations – are similar to those a number of other college programs, including Iowa, has dealt with on occasion.
“I don’t think there is anything extraordinary going on, nothing alarming in my mind, but there are things that have to be addressed and we do have clearly stated expectations that we expect everybody to abide by,’’ Ferentz said.
Wirfs, who faces charges for operating while intoxicated after a scooter he was driving was stopped by Iowa City police, said he feels like he let his teammates down.
“It’s something that shouldn’t have happened,’’ Wirfs said. “I embarrassed my family and my team. It comes down to teammates trusting teammates to do the right thing. I felt like with the mistake I made, I broke that trust.’’
Lattimore shares that sentiment.
“I let people down and that’s not what I’m about,’’ he said. “I’ve been here for three years now and I know better than to put myself in a position where what I do impacts the team. It’s something I will learn from and won’t happen again.’’
All four players continue to practice with the team, but will spend the week of the first game of the season participating on the scout team.
“Then moving forward, we are very, very eager to get the guys back in good standing and get them moving forward and have them be contributing members of our football team,’’ Ferentz said. “That is what we fully expect from all four of them.’’