Posted by: marcmwm | July 9, 2009

Hall of Ferentz — Running back

Shonn Greene set Iowa season records for rushing yards (1,850) and rushing TDs (20) and led the Hawkeyes to a 9-4 record last season. Watching some teams try to tackle him was like watching someone trying to catch a piano falling down a flight of stairs. (Gazette/Cliff Jette)

Shonn Greene set Iowa season records for rushing yards (1,850) and rushing TDs (20) and led the Hawkeyes to a 9-4 record last season. Watching some teams try to tackle him was like watching someone trying to catch a piano falling down a flight of stairs. (Gazette/Cliff Jette)

The contestants:

Ladell Betts (1998-01)

Albert Young (2004-07)

Fred Russell (2001-03)

Shonn Greene (2005-08)

I can’t win here.

1) Shonn Greene (2005-08)

He lead the nation in backstory last season. He twice flunked out of Iowa. He worked moving furniture in 2007, completely outside of the program. He got a little big — 250-ish. He returned after nearly two years without a carry — without a CARRY — and won the freaking Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top back. He set Iowa season records with 1,850 rushing yards and 20 rushing TDs. He rushed for 100 yards in all of Iowa’s 13 games, a Big Ten record. He was Iowa’s first all-American RB since 1939, when one Nile Kinnick won the Heisman Trophy. He won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football, which goes to the Big Ten MVP. He was named Outback Bowl MVP with three TDs. He was named the Hawkeyes co-MVP, sharing with DT Mitch King. When he was given the award at the team banquet, he left the trophy on stage, saying his offensive line deserved it. Greene was drafted in the third round and signed a four-year deal with a $900,000 signing bonus. Greene was money in the bank. He was the best RB Iowa has had since I started covering them in 1994, so that includes Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks.

2) Ladell Betts (1998-01)

Ladell Betts was a bright spot in some very dark days for Iowa football. Here’s an excerpt from a story I wrote in 2000:

“IOWA CITY – Usually, it’s the offensive linemen who open the thank-you notes. You know, the ones from the overjoyed running back who’s benefited from their gripping and grunting up front, in football’s no-man’s land.

Either a thank-you note or pizza.

At Iowa last fall, it was the other way around. And instead of thank-you notes, running back Ladell Betts could have expected letters of apology.

“About overlooking that 290-pound defensive tackle, Ladell, I just want to say . . .”

“Like a lot of our guys in the skill positions, it was tough sledding. We were so inexperienced up front,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I never once saw Ladell display any frustration, any negative body language, anything. I think in a normal person, it would’ve been normal behavior.

“It was frustrating. But he was encouraging. He never had a bad word about his teammates.”

Playing running back for Iowa last season was a kamikaze mission.

Three red-shirt freshmen started on the offensive line. They learned on the job. As they learned on the job, Betts somehow managed to keep his cool – and all of his bendable body parts.

“Actually, I had a lot of people say they felt bad for me,” said Betts, a junior. “But if I’m not worried about that, I don’t know why they should be. Don’t worry
about it, I’m not too worried about it.

“Better days will come.”

Despite the rebuilding O-line (most of which went on to become one of Iowa’s best in 2002), Betts finished his career as Iowa’s No. 2 rusher with 3,686 career yards.

3) Fred Russell (2001-03)

Russell was short (5-6ish) but he wasn’t small. The guy was put together and, as it turned out, he was the perfect back for the 2002-2003 teams. Defenses simply couldn’t find him behind the behemoths on Iowa’s O-lines during that run. He ‘s No. 5 on Iowa’s career rushing list and averaged 5.4 yards a carry, which is more than Shaw (5.0) and Betts (4.4). Yes, he ran behind the best O-line in the Kirk Ferentz era (2002), but he wasn’t skateboarding back there. He was also an engaging personality with a great sense of humor.

Honorable mention: Albert Young.  His career is similar to Russell’s. Though he had injuries that slowed him, Young finished as one of only three backs to rush for more than 3,000 career yards. He’s No. 3 on Iowa’s career rushing list (3,173). You could feel the guy’s pain when the Hawkeyes blew a bowl bid with a bitter home loss to Western Michigan in the ’07 finale. Great young man, Young was signed to the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad last season.

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Responses

  1. Dude, you got that exactly right. Though his name escapes me now, only healthy RB from ’04?, deserves some props for doing what he did as RB #6.

    Sam?

  2. Sam Brownlee. Great representative of everythiing college football.

  3. I’m sure Sam Brownlee was a nice guy and all, but didn’t he average like 2 yards a carry or something?

    Anyway this seems about right. Numbers would have Freddy number two, but what Betts was able to do with the offense around him was incredible (his 1000 yards behind the offensive line of 2000 might seriously have been the most impressive season ever by an Iowa running back, all things considered). Poor dude was either a few years too late or a few years too early. At least he’s had a decent NFL career and made some money.

    I really wish Young could be higher on the list, and if he’d been able to stay healthy I think he’d have gone down as one of the best in school history. As it was, he definitely had one truly great season (2005) and then was just too banged up after that. Makes me kinda sad, he deserved better.

  4. Don’t know if you wrote it or if it was Cliff J., but on the photo above? Best cutline ever.

  5. I personally hope I didn’t take him for granted last year.

  6. I’m loving these lists. Keep ‘em coming. I concur 100% of your order.

    I think the best thing about this list is that they all seemed like very humble dudes. All always gave credit to the line, never complained about sharing the load. I remember how AY would always get excited anytime he AND Sims went over 100.

    I’m going to add to your list the “Best supporting Rolls” of Sims, Jermelle Lewis(If only we had him healthy for a full season), and of course, Sam Brownlie. All definitely deserve much credit. (Not including Jewel ’cause I’m hoping for more out of him)

  7. Yeah, Jermelle had all the tools as well. Too bad he couldn’t stay healthy, or in school.

    Physically, he was as good as Ladell and close to Shonn.

  8. I seem to recall Young saying at some point that a very young Greene was better than he or Lewis. Looking at earlier games last year, I think Greene was still getting his game stamina built up until the fourth or fifth game. It will be interesting to see how he does in the pros.

    I agree with the order. Russell was such a unique back that you can’t put him higher, though it’s tempting. Bill Curry called him “the little engine that could”, and that pretty much nailed it. Actually, he may have performed a couple of skateboarding moves with all the twisting, turning and juking he did. One of the most elusive backs Iowa ever had, along with Ronnie Harmon and (from waay back) Willie Fleming. With all he achieved, I beleive he walked away from an additional year of eligibility for 2004.

  9. Shonn Greene’s year in 2009 is the best that I’ve ever seen an Iowa running back have in over 30 years of watching Iowa football.

    Ronnie Harmon was perhaps the most talented, overall.

    Yet, Ladell Betts might get my vote for all time best, because of his durability and toughness, running behind some not so great offensive lines.


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