This is a series of stories that will appear over the next 15 days that will run down the top three players at each position during coach Kirk Ferentz’s 10-plus seasons as Iowa’s head coach. The positions are QB, RB, FB, WR, TE, C, G, T, DT, DE, LB, S, CB, P and K.
Yes, it’s a summer-filler device, but this is something I’ve kicked around in my head for a bunch of years. I certainly want to hear from you on this. Let me know who I missed, just how crazy you think I am and your top three.
Yes, some of these are going to be a total no-brainer. Some won’t be so easy. I haven’t put keyboard to bandwith yet, but right now I see linebacker being a pretty good debate, same with RB and WR.
By the way, I’m not allowing any ties. No gray area here. (You’ll find out later I wimp out on this.)
1) Jason Baker (1997-00)
Baker will begin his ninth season in the NFL this year. Ninth. This will be his fourth year with the Carolina Panthers. He has a deal through 2012 and will earn $850,000 this season. His career average in the NFL is 44.1 yards.
Baker was, arguably, the Hawkeyes’ MVP in 2000. This from a story championing that notion:
Looking back on a Hawkeye season with early downs and recent ups, we bestow a few awards and note milestone moments as the team heads into its final game of 2000:
Team MVP: punter Jason Baker
This is not a diss. Baker, who humbly rejected the punter-as-MVP notion this week, has been that good.
Can you think of a football team that relied more on one foot? Baker’s punting has been the invisible hand in Iowa’s three victories. It’s been the difference between starting a drive on the 20 or the 40.
Baker has been a rock for four years, with his punt average rising each year.
He will be paid to punt somewhere next year.
2) Ryan Donahue (2007-10)
Donahue, who set a school record for punts in a season (86) and punt yardage in a season (3,533), was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist this season. He only had 12 of his 50 punts returned last season for a grand total of 60 yards.
Here’s a story The Gazette’s Scott Dochterman wrote on him going into last season.
3) David Bradley (2001-04)
Bradley was a four-year starter. He averaged 39.5 yards a kick.
His backstory was heartbreaking. He lost both of his parents at a very young age. Here’s an excerpt from a 2003 story:
IOWA CITY – When Iowa punter David Bradley faces a tough kick, one from deep in Hawkeyes’ territory, he picks a spot high in the stadium and just aims.
You want to say if Bradley aimed a little higher he’d kick it to his parents, Dennis and Cheryl, in heaven. But that’s too over the top. And that’s not where Bradley is right now.
He’s a thriving punter for the Hawkeyes, claiming Big Ten special teams player of the week after averaging 48.4 yards a punt in Iowa’s season-opening, 21-3, victory over Miami (Ohio).
The memories live, but there’s no trace of “why me.” This is a 21-year-old football player with an agenda.
“When things get bad, the tough get tougher,” said Bradley, a junior from San Diego, Calif. “The past is the past. You do remember some things. Right now, football is my focal point. That’s why I’m in college.”
His parents are gone, but Bradley, a square-jawed 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, still has aunt and uncle, Jack and Eileen Bradley. They became surrogates, no hesitation. And they’re in with David full force. They travel from Palm Springs for every home game, and even make a few away games.
“We’re there, but his dad was his coach and mentor and best pal,” Jack Bradley said. “Dennis laid the foundation for him. David has always been in sports and I think he’s learned a lot about adversity through sports.
“He’s had adversity on and off the field. But he’s always been a gamer. He keeps coming back.”
Honorable mention: Andy Fenstermaker (2005-06). Well, punters seem to last four years under coach Kirk Ferentz. Fenstermaker was a two-year guy who averaged 38.0 yards. Opponents averaged just 2.8 yards a return during his senior year.