OK, I’m whimping out. This has to be a tie, doesn’t it? You can’t have an Abdul Hodge without a Chad Greenway and vice versa. Coaches put so much trust into Hodge, a Norm Parker fave and maybe an all-time fave. Plus, I saw Hodge in the weightroom. The guy worked like a freight train. Greenway was sooo athletic. Hodge was more physical, but Greenway got to a lot of places that most linebackers never make it to.
So, a tie. Sue me.
1) Abdul Hodge/Chad Greenway (2002-05)
Here is the original “Hall of Ferentz” story:
TAMPA, Fla. – The conversation took place in the foyer of the Iowa football complex.
On the wall over Chad Greenway’s right shoulder was a huge banner with a picture of former Iowa quarterback Brad Banks in action. Similar banners with Robert Gallery and Bob Sanders hung over Abdul Hodge’s right shoulder.
This is the Hall of Ferentz, a spot in the hallway outside of Coach Kirk Ferentz’s office, nestled thirty or so steps from the front door of the complex. Banners of Banks, Gallery, Sanders, Nate Kaeding and Dallas Clark hang on the wall.
Banks’ Maxwell Award trophy sits in one plexiglass case. Kaeding’s Lou Groza trophy sits in another. Gallery’s Oakland Raiders jersey sits in a case where a spot is reserved for his Outland Trophy. Sanders didn’t win a national award, but he was good enough to earn a spot in the Hall.
“One good thing about being the head coach is that you can make the rules as you go along,” said Ferentz, who’s finishing his seventh season at Iowa in today’s Outback Bowl against Florida. “It’s my wall, I guess I can do whatever I want.”
Greenway and Hodge, senior linebackers, deserve banners or posters or whatever in the Hall of Ferentz. Their numbers speak for themselves. They’ll finish their careers among the top five tacklers in Iowa history.
Greenway ranked third nationally with 13.4 tackles a game this season. His 147 tackles this season is second best in a season at Iowa. He was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award (top linebacker) and Bednarik Trophy (top defensive player).
Hodge averaged 12.6 tackles this season and missed becoming a three-time first-team all-Big Ten selection, earning second-team honors this season. Hodge and Greenway were semifinalists for the Lott Trophy, given to the defensive player with the biggest impact on and off the field.
“Right now, I can’t honestly think of one without the other,” said Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who coaches the inside linebackers. “It’s almost
like thinking about twins. I don’t see one of them in my mind without seeing the other one.”
OK, they don’t have major awards. But neither did Sanders, who happened to make the Pro Bowl at safety for the Indianapolis Colts this season.
They put in the ACL tear (Greenway) and life away from a young daughter (Hodge) that carried Ferentz’s vision to what it is today – a perennial contender in the Big Ten and an Iowa team playing a New Year’s Day bowl for the fourth straight season.
Sure no major awards, but that’s OK. They still get into the Hall of Ferentz.
“My house,” Ferentz said. “My rules.”
This is an unofficial thing, this Hall of Ferentz. And it’s more than being a banner outside his office or a major-award winner. If you talk football with Ferentz for more than 10 minutes, you know it’s there.
Aaron Kampman is in. The former Iowa lineman who switched from linebacker to defensive end at the behest of Ferentz’s staff is up for another raise as an end for the Green Bay Packers.
Kaeding is in. The 2002 Lou Groza Award winner came to Iowa as one of Ferentz’s first recruits and left as the school’s all-time scoring leader. He now kicks for the San Diego Chargers.
Sanders is in. Ferentz put him on the list during Sanders’ freshman season in 2000, when Sanders hit a Michigan State kick returner so hard it – a few years and a few more recruits later – eventually made Iowa a Big Ten championship contender.
Gallery is in. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman in 2003 and later became the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.
Clark is in. He went from walk-on linebacker from Livermore to John Mackey Award-winning tight end in 2002. He was a first-round draft pick by the Colts in 2003.
Banks is in. Banks quarterbacked Iowa to its first undefeated Big Ten season in 2002, leading the Hawks to a Big Ten co-championship and berth in the Orange Bowl. Banks came to Iowa as a junior-college hopeful and left as the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
This week in Florida, Ferentz referenced Kampman and Banks in consecutive sentences.
Ferentz already has, unconsciously, added Greenway and Hodge to his list of references. When this is brought to his attention, Ferentz becomes careful. He still, after all, has to coach them for one more game.
“He always talks about Bob,” Greenway said. “He goes back to Aaron Kampman and Matt Bowen, guys who were on his first team here.
“It’s nice to be thought of with those guys. But we just did what we were told to do. We did what was asked of us. If you can do that, get the most out of your ability, you can do special things here.”
Said Hodge, “That’s one thing about this place (the hallway in the complex). You’re starting to see some great football players come through here. To be mentioned along with these guys is special.”
This is the last senior class that will have tasted the struggles of Ferentz’s first two seasons at Iowa, 1999 and 2000, when Iowa had a collective 4-19 record.
Greenway and Hodge committed to Iowa when Iowa was, basically, a football Dakota, a reference Greenway appreciates being from Mount Vernon, S.D., where his dad, Alan, is a farmer and a mail carrier.
Iowa was coming off a 3-8 season when Hodge picked Iowa over Mississippi, Wisconsin, Auburn and Minnesota. While Hodge had choices, Greenway picked between Iowa and . . . that was it unless you count South Dakota State.
“I like to think of myself as a pretty smart guy when it comes to figuring out what people are thinking and where a person is coming from,” Hodge said. “Coming in and talking to the coaching staff, I liked their demeanor and liked their attitude. They knew they had work to do and they didn’t hide it.”
Greenway still has a hard time articulating what he saw in Ferentz, Parker and Iowa five years ago. He just knew, it was as simple as that.
“There was no question that they had something,” Greenway said. “You just knew that they were doing something the right way.”
Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are going their separate ways this afternoon. They likely won’t play football again side by side, hip to hip, heart to heart.
Sure, they might get lucky in their NFL fortunes, but the odds aren’t good for one average NFL team to take two linebackers in the first two rounds.
Don’t look for the million-dollar goodbye. You can fish for it, hoping for the big hug, the “I love you, man,” but it’s not happening.
Abdul might not be the middle to Chad’s weakside linebacker, but they’ll never be more than a phone call, text message or whatever it is the kids are doing these days for long-distance communication.
When Greenway gets married this summer in Illinois, Hodge will be there. Greenway might even make him an usher. “We’ll find something for him to do.”
This is a bond that will forever stretch from the Florida beaches to the South Dakota plains.
“We don’t finish each other’s sentences. It’s never been like that,” Greenway said. “We’re still pretty different people, but I think that’s part of why we’ve gotten along so well.”
As of now, Iowa has five potential linebackers in this recruiting class. You just know they will hear the names Greenway and Hodge again and again and again.
Make room on the wall. Hang the Greenway and Hodge banners, coach.
Hodge is No. 3 on Iowa’s tackles chart with 453 career tackles. Greenway is No. 5 with 416. Greenway is entering is fourth season with the Vikings. Hodge is in his fourth year in the NFL. After his knees cost him a season in Green Bay, he’s with the Cincinnati Bengals.
2) A.J. Edds (2006-09)
OK, the outside linebacker had shoulder surgery in the offseason. I saw him during spring practice throwing the ball 60 yards. The guy is fine. Remember when Iowa linebackers gave up a big play while covering a wideout every other game or so? Well, have you seen much of that with Edds around?
Edds is close to Iowa’s top 50 career tacklers list with 148 stops. But what will probably get him invited to the NFL combine is his coverage skills. He has eight career pass breakups and two interceptions. Try to think of a time he got beat by a wideout.
3) Grant Steen (2000-03)
A three-year starter at outside linebacker, Steen is one of the all-time walk-ons in the Ferentz era. He finished his career with 189 tackles, five interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
Remember the fumble at Iowa State? And then remember the redemption?
AMES — The Grant Steen drill worked like a charm for Grant Steen, the reluctant and now redemptive author of a drill designed to save
The senior linebacker scooped up a fumble and cradled it like a gold doubloon. Then he picked off a pass midway through the third quarter of Iowa’s 40-21 victory over Iowa State and put both burly arms around the ball, treating it like a newborn in a hailstorm.
Grant Steen obviously picked up a little something from nearly two years of Grant Steen drills.
“We do a strip drill and if you get a pick, someone comes from behind and works at it,” Steen said. “Maybe (Iowa defensive coordinator) Norm Parker will say it is (the Grant Steen drill), but I’m not going to say it.”
The Grant Steen drill might not officially be called the Grant Steen drill, but he’s the reason Iowa’s defenders now wrap both arms around turnovers.
He was reluctant, now he’s redemptive.
Two years ago against Iowa State, Steen picked off a pass and ran deep into Cyclone territory, setting up a possible tying field goal or maybe the winning touchdown. But during the return, ISU wideout Craig Campbell swooped in and knocked the ball from Steen’s arms.
ISU tailback Ennis Haywood recovered. ISU ran eight minutes off the clock and left the Hawkeyes with one last-gasp drive that fell short in a 17-14 loss, Iowa’s fourth in a row to ISU.
“I felt like I left a lot out there two years ago,” Steen said. “(Iowa) Coach (Kirk) Ferentz never wants a player to put it on his shoulders, but I definitely put it on my shoulders two years ago.”
It was one big ugh for everyone Iowa. So close, yet so far.
“You worry about that. It was a tough one for him a couple years back,” Ferentz said. “You hate to deal with injuries in coaching and you always worry about a guy who maybe puts too pressure on himself.”
Ferentz said Steen was absolved from day 1. But he knew that Steen wouldn’t forgive Steen.
“I know how Grant thinks,” Ferentz said. “He’s a competitor. And I’m sure that’s been in the back of his mind.”
Back, front, middle, it’s been all over his mind.
“You guys don’t know how tough that was for him last time,” defensive tackle Jared Clauss said. “He made a great play, it just didn’t work out for him.”
You’d think a gaffe like that – against Iowa State, at Iowa State, with, at the time, a bowl game in the balance – would be off limits in even the lightest of locker room moments. You’d think everyday in practice, they’d bow their heads in silence before the Grant Steen drill.
Steen is OK with the Grant Steen drill. Truth be told, he always has been OK with it. He’s even laughed and joked at it.
Parker is usually leading the jokes.
“Our locker room is brutal,” said Steen, who had six tackles to go with the fumble recovery and interception Saturday. “There’s no mercy. Someone does something good, something bad, you give them a hard time. You just take it all in. We’re family, that’s how it works.
“You give somebody time to let it blow over. Then, in practice when coach Parker is giving you a hard time, it opens the floodgates.”
Steen’s dad, Tom, has been an assistant coach at Emmetsburg for many years before being promoted to head coach this year. Coaches’ sons often hear their dads criticized, especially in small, football-crazy towns like Emmetsburg. That helped Steen deal with a potentially career-crushing fumble.
“You get a thick skin,” Steen said. “All coaches’ sons get thick skins.”
Saturday, Steen ran 4 yards before ducking and covering ISU QB Austin Flynn’s fumble. He set up the Hawkeyes at ISU’s 40 and four plays later, Iowa took a 10-0 lead.
In the third, Steen returned his interception 15 yards to ISU’s 4. He weaved through traffic, showing a little of the swerve left over from his days as a prep running back. He was headed in the same direction and toward the same end zone in ’01. This time, when it was time to tuck and roll, the ball disappeared into his gut.
“That was great for Grant,” free safety Sean Considine said. “I don’t think anyone said anything when he got to the sidelines. We were nice today.”
Well, not everyone.
“Coach Parker was the first one and he said, ‘You actually held on to it this time,”‘ Steen said. “It’s ruthless.”
It’s always been OK to joke. It’s really, really OK now.
Steen played four seasons of professional football, including two as a member of the New England Patriots. He was on the Arizona Rattlers’ roster in ’08.
Honorable mention: Pat Angerer (2006-09). The senior from Bettendorf was a second-team all-Big Ten pick last season. He was named Big Ten POW after a two-interception and 16-tackle performance last season against Wisconsin. He tied for the team lead with five interceptions. As a sophomore, Angerer had one tackle. Last season, he had 107.