1) Bob Sanders (2000-03)
Sanders is arguably the most important player in the Ferentz era. When he arrived and did his thing, Kirk Ferentz had someone he could point to and say, “Do that. Be like Bob.” Of course, Ferentz knew what he was getting. Iowa beat out Ohio University on the recommendation of Joe Moore, Ferentz’s mentor.
Moore, who passed away in 2003, sure knew what he was talking about.
Here’s a story from just before the 2004 NFL draft.
CEDAR RAPIDS — The old-school San Diego Padres jersey said hip-hop. But lunch said college kid in Iowa, a cheesy Maid-Rite with plenty of ketchup.
Bob Sanders is caught between two worlds.
The former all-Big Ten safety for the Iowa Hawkeyes is still in Iowa. He’s working out at the Iowa football complex with fellow NFL-draft eligibles Fred Russell and Chris Smith.
He’s also some three weeks from the NFL draft, the new world for the 5-foot-9, 209-pounder.
“The weirdest thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s not a game anymore, it’s a business,” Sanders said Wednesday. “It’s a job. This is how I’m going to be putting food on my family’s table. I’m going to be making a living and it’s going to be my everyday job.
“I’m excited. I’m blessed to be able to do something I enjoy each and every day.
“You’re now playing with guys who are in their 30s, who have children and wives and families. You’ve got to go into it and you’ve got to be a man. You’ve got to be able to tend to your business.”
Wednesday, Sanders ate lunch at Maid-Rite West in Cedar Rapids, the backdrop for a photo shoot with ESPN The Magazine.
He chowed food – he’s up to 209 pounds, 13 more than he played at last fall, but it’s good weight, 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash weight – and
asked, “Hat or no hat?”
Let’s touch on some of the hard NFL-draft stuff.
Sanders has an agent, Cleveland-based Neil Cornrich, who also lists Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz as a client. Sanders wowed the NFL combine poke-and-prod squad with a 4.36 40, 15 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press and an otherworldly 41-inch vertical leap, the highest at the combine.
“Whatever you do in life, you probably won’t experience something like that,” Sanders said. “It’s basically a place where everybody in the world who could hire you for that one job you’ve always wanted is in that one place.”
During January’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Sanders eased some scouts’ worries by flashing cover skills that he wasn’t asked to show at Iowa.
“I was a run-stopper,” said Sanders, who was a second-team all-American and first-team all-Big Ten pick last season. “I played a lot better closer to the line, I enjoyed the physical part of the game, sort of like a linebacker.”
But he knew after his sophomore year that he would have to develop cover skills, one-on-one, the complete package.
“When you get to this point, they want to see you do it all,” said Sanders, referring to NFL scouts and coaches. “They want to see that you can make it look easy.
“They didn’t see that on film (at Iowa). But I think I answered that at the Senior Bowl. They saw I could play the deep middle and play off the hashes. I was starting on the first day, but I got hurt (foot, it’s OK now, though). And down at the combine, I showed I can jump and run fast.”
Between now and the April 24-25 draft, Sanders will go through a series of workouts for teams. He did one for the New York Jets last week in Iowa City.
He’s been told he’s a second- or third-rounder, but has also heard late first, maybe. Of course, he wants to go as high and as quickly as possible in the draft, but he has no expectations.
He doesn’t have a favorite NFL team. He doesn’t have a particular team or city in mind. Today, it’s old-school Padres jersey and funky Chicago Cubs hat.
“I never get nervous about it (the draft),” Sanders said. “I get excited. It’s a long wait, though. There’s another whole month left.
“But it’s like looking at something you’ve wanted your whole life and it’s a month away. It’s exciting for me, my family.”
Sanders will spend draft day with his parents, Jean and Marion, back in Erie, Pa. Sanders, a three-time first-team all-Big Ten pick, has resisted the
temptation to go out and spend his signing bonus, which will run into seven digits. Former Iowa offensive lineman Eric Steinbach received a $1.8 million
signing bonus as a second-rounder last season.
“I want to wait until I get my own, I don’t want to have to take any loans and have to owe anybody,” Sanders said. “I haven’t gotten anything yet. You’ve got to be smart. You don’t have it yet, so it’s not yours. You know you’re going to be paid in a few months, you’ve just got to be smart about it.”
You can’t argue with Sanders’ logic. And you can’t argue with his future.
For the record, he didn’t take classes this semester at Iowa. He talked with Ferentz and they decided that he could come back and finish his degree, on
scholarship, after setting up in the NFL.
The course is set for the NFL Bob.
Now, the question is hat or no hat.
Sanders is going into his sixth season with the Indianapolis Colts. He was a Pro Bowler in 2005 and was named the AP defensive player of the year in ’07. He had 348 career tackles at Iowa and seven career interceptions. In 2007, Sanders signed a five-year contract worth $37.5 million, making him the highest-paid safety at the time.
2) Sean Considine (2001-04)
Considine went from walk-on to NFL draft pick. This winter, he signed a two-year, $3 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here’s an excerpt from a story on those very thoughts from 2005:
IOWA CITY – When they leave for Philadelphia, Oakland and Washington, they won’t need to make room in their suitcases for the chips on their shoulders.
They’ll probably wear them on the plane.
Former Iowa walk-ons Sean Considine, Pete McMahon and Tyler Luebke will head to their respective NFL cities knowing they have to prove themselves all over again.
“When I look back on it now, I think one of the best things that happened to me was having to walk on,” said Considine, a safety who was drafted in the fourth round Sunday by the Philadelphia Eagles. “I came here with a huge chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove a lot of people wrong and I think it really carried me through the first couple years.
“I think I outworked a lot of people and moved up the depth chart faster than I thought I would’ve because I was out there trying to prove people wrong.”
Iowa has had at least one player taken in the last 28 drafts. The last year an Iowa player wasn’t drafted was 1977.
During Kirk Ferentz’s six seasons as head coach, Iowa has put 21 players in the draft. Over the last four years, 18 Hawkeyes have been drafted, the second most in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s 30.
Five of the 15 Hawkeyes drafted in the last three years began their careers at Iowa as walk-ons. Considine and McMahon, who went to Oakland in the sixth round, followed former Iowa walk-ons Dallas Clark (Colts), Bruce Nelson (Panthers) and Derek Pagel (Jets).
Now, this says a couple things about the Iowa program.
First, Iowa coaches have an eye for the 40 or so players who walk on. And when they spot talent, they develop talent.
Coming out of Byron (Ill.) High School, Considine’s best option for a college scholarship was baseball at Northern Illinois. McMahon caught coaches’ attention only after his brother made and shipped out a highlight tape. Luebke was thinking Southwest Missouri State after transferring from Ellsworth Community College and Kirkwood Community College.
Walk-ons come to Iowa with climb in front of them. And right now, the program is rich with success stories, from players who earn scholarships, spots on special teams, spots in the starting lineup or a spot in the NFL draft.
“I think the credit, like all of it here, goes to our players because these guys have all come in with a dream and all that, but they’ve been willing to work toward that dream,” Ferentz said. “They’ve really paid a price.”
Considine will begin his fifth year in the NFL this season. He should go down as one of the top specials teams players in Iowa history, with five blocked kicks. He ended his career with 157 tackles and six interceptions. He has two NFL interceptions.
3) Matt Bowen (1997-99)
Here’s a story Gazette columnist Mike Hlas did around this year’s Super Bowl.
Here’s a snippet from a Hlas column on Bowen in 1998:
We in the media shouldn’t be cheerleaders for the teams and people we cover, but I admit to having a favorite Iowa football player.
He is junior safety Matt Bowen. He had a strong game against Central Michigan last Saturday with four tackles and his third career interception, but he could be Benchwarmer Bowen for all I care.
Bowen is my guy because he wants to someday try to make a living as a sports columnist!
His writing career is under way. He pounds out a column for his school’s student newspaper, The Daily Iowan, each Tuesday during football season. It’s a look at what it’s like to be on a major-college football team.
It isn’t no-holds-barred by any means, because Bowen is a bright young man. A quick way to the sidelines is to show up your coaches. A quick way to the hospital is to embarrass teammates.
Yet, Bowen didn’t try to sugarcoat what happened to the Hawks last season in his column in the Sept. 1 DI.
“Everyone thought we were ‘the team’ in the Big Ten going into the season,” he wrote. “I don’t see how anyone would doubt that statement, considering the talent stockpile we possessed.
“With names like Tim Dwight, Kerry Cooks and Tavian Banks … we were expected to produce big things.
“To make a long story short, our season last year did not go as planned and it disappointed us, as well as our fans.”
However, Bowen was nothing but optimistic about this season.
“I’m as confident as I’ve ever been,” he said in a recent interview, when he was the subject instead of the scribe. “It’s a new slate. Last year is last year,
it’s gone. We’re ready to play.”
Bowen had 222 tackles at Iowa. He played seven years in the NFL and is now a writer for the National Football Post.
Honorable mention: (tie) Derek Pagel (1999-02) and Marcus Paschal (2003-06). Pagel had 154 tackles, five interceptions and 14 pass break-ups in his career at Iowa. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the New York Jets in the 2003 draft. An injury shortened his NFL career. Paschal had 199 tackles, three interceptions and 17 pass break-ups. He was on the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 and signed and cut by the Falcons this year.