McGrath, Sabers find value in the margins
McGrath, Sabers find value in the margins
By Marc Morehouse
(Brian Ray/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Gavin McGrath (37) and Chad Geary (55) wrap up Montana’s Brady Green (41) during a 2006 game. McGrath, a former Cedar Rapids Washington prep, hasn’t seen a lot of playing time outside special teams, but has enjoyed his five years in Iowa City.
IOWA CITY — Their heroics come out in bits, not grandly executed actions.
The time they’ve put in was built somewhere into the base of the pyramid that is Iowa football. Their contributions aren’t measured in stats. They might only be measured in coaches’ appreciation.
Saturday, Gavin McGrath will line up as the signal caller for the punt team, the “personal protector.” Michael Sabers’ job comes with conditions. The Hawkeyes will have to be grubbing for one ugly yard for the short-yardage offense for Sabers to get the call.
It’ll be the last home game for the fifth-year seniors. And no, they won’t carry hard hearts into it.
“My first thought five years ago was, how can I help the team win?” said McGrath, a former Cedar Rapids Washington prep. “There are roles that start all the way from the scout team to the starting quarterback. I’m proud and happy to be on special teams and do my part there. As small of a role as it is, it really makes you proud.”
Sabers, an Iowa City High grad, isn’t shy about his desire to catch one pass. That’s part of the deal at tight end. You block some and catch some. Sabers would love one thrown his way.
“That would be awesome to get into the stat book,” said Sabers, whose dad, Dan, is the head football coach at City High. “You don’t get into the stat book for blocking, even if it is an awesome block. That would be awesome to get into the stat book, but I’m not out there looking for that.”
Sabers stops himself and comes back to the notion of “role.” He’s been a second or third tight end for goal line and short-yardage situations for the last two seasons.
It’s not what he signed up for, but it’s his role. It’s HIS role.
“It’s an important role,” he said. “I’ve got to know what my role is and that I’m helping out the team in everything I do, whether it be practicing hard, doing my job on goal line, helping out the young guys. Everyone has their role on this team whether they are the top guy or the last guy on the roster.
“As I grow older, I understand that more. When I was younger, as a freshman and stuff, I had some different ideas. As you go through the program and realize how important everybody’s role is, it makes it easier.”
Every football career has a window of opportunity. The size of that window varies.
For running back Shonn Greene, the window closed twice because of academics and then, this season, it opened wide. He has 1,374 yards and is a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation’s top back.
For oft-injured tight end Tony Moeaki, the window keeps opening and closing because of health.
For McGrath, the window was shaped by the arrival of hotshot linebacker A.J. Edds. The bigger, stronger, faster Edds shot up the depth chart at outside linebacker when he arrived as a true freshman in 2006, when McGrath held No. 2 OLB.
One player goes up the depth chart, another player goes down.
“You face reality,” McGrath said. “A.J. came in and wow, this kid’s talented. What can you do about it? There’s no bitterness for me at all. I just took it and ran with it and tried to make the best of my opportunities.”
Allen Reisner changed the depth chart at tight end. The sophomore from Marion jumped into the action as a true freshman last season and caught two passes. This year, he’s Iowa’s fourth-leading receiver with 11 catches for 200 yards.
Sabers could be jealous. He could look at those as his receptions. You know he doesn’t, but he admitted that, at the time, it was a difficult notion.
“It’s tough to have a freshman come in and beat you out,” said Sabers, whose senior season was setback by a fall camp ankle injury. “That’s obviously tough on you. But you’ve just got to know your role and realize that the coaches know what they’re doing and that everything I do is helping out the team.”
It’s easy to say that. It’s way, way harder to live it.
“It is, it really is because we put so much work in to get on the field,” said Sabers, who’s already graduated. “You don’t put work in to just be a cheerleader. It is tough, but I’ve had the experience. I’ve actually been out there and have played.
“Yeah, it’s not what I had hoped coming out of high school, but it’s still been an awesome experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
What keeps you going when the appreciation for your efforts doesn’t reach beyond coaches and teammates? Iowa doesn’t do helmet stickers, so these don’t even have that.
“Not giving up on your teammates and always being there for them,” said McGrath, a finance major. “If you have a bad attitude about it, you’re going to affect the whole team. You’ll bring guys down in the locker room and meeting rooms. So, you just appreciate the opportunity and have fun with it.
“There have been patches where it’s rough. You get through it. I don’t regret a single minute of coming here.”
What keeps you going? You’re wise enough to see and appreciate the brotherhood of the team.
“I can say I’m going to be friends with some of these guys 20 years from now,” McGrath said, “but I know that I’m going to be.”