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Archive for January, 2016

The sad and simple truth

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
There is no getting around the sad and simple truth surrounding the death of Tyler Sash. The game he loved and the passion and intensity he played that game with throughout his life contributed to his death last fall at the age of 27. Sash was a spirited competitor, dishing out hits and taking them from the time he first ran onto the old high school field dug into a ravine in his hometown of Oskaloosa to the stadiums of the Big Ten and ultimately the NFL. His tragic death from what has been determined to be an accidental drug overdose at his home in Oskaloosa on Sept. 8 saddened Hawkeye fans, former teammates and coaches. Last night, they learned part of the reason behind the death of a player who had seemingly accomplished so much. According to a report in the New York Times, Sash's brain had been impacted by advanced stages of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma. Sash dealt with repeated concussions during his playing career, at least five before the New York Giants released him the one-time all-Big Ten defensive back in 2013. Two of those concussions took place in high school, one while he was playing at Iowa, according to the published report. Sash's family members told the New York Times that he was dealing with bouts of confusion and memory loss and that his behavior at times had become irregular. Sash's mother donated her son's brain to have it tested for CTE, and last week representatives of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and Boston University notified the family that CTE had been diagnosed and had advanced to a stage rarely seen in someone so young. Multiple studies on the impact of concussions and tests on potential ways to limit both their occurrence and their impact on the body when they do occur are underway across the country. Rules on the field have changed. Toughened targeting rules are in place. The way tackling is being taught has changed. Still, the risk remains. Football is a contact sport, as is soccer and hockey and at times, even baseball. At its core, the object for any defensive player on a football field is to tackle the person with the ball. Tyler Sash excelled at that part of the game. Sadly, that may have contributed to his much-too-soon demise. Some suggest that the sport he loved has a questionable future at best. His life, and his demise, only add to those questions. As others work to determine the answers and find solutions, the clock is ticking. That, too, is the sad and simple truth.

Big weekend

Friday, January 22nd, 2016
Iowa basketball and wrestling programs will look to remain unbeaten in the Big Ten at home this weekend, but it's a big weekend for the Hawkeye football program as well. Iowa will host its biggest recruiting weekend of the year, welcoming 22 prospects to campus. Of those, 18 are players who have verbally committed to be part of Iowa's 2016 recruiting class and are expected to sign binding letters of intent on Feb. 3. The rest of the players who have already committed to the Hawkeyes are scheduled to make their official visits to Iowa City next weekend. The four uncommitted players include a pair of offensive linemen, a top instate player and a North Carolina kicker. Both of the linemen hold scholarship offers from the Hawkeyes. Matt Farniok is a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive tackle from Washington High School in Sioux Falls, S.D. The brother of former Iowa State lineman Tom Farniok has already made official visits to Michigan State and Nebraska and the South Dakota Gatorade player of the year will likely be reminded of other natives of that state who have enjoyed success in the Iowa program. The other visiting offensive lineman is 6-7, 285-pound Alaric Jackson of Renaissance High School in Detroit. His stop in Iowa City is the first of three he has scheduled for the next two weeks. Jackson also has trips planned to Iowa State and Nebraska before the end of the month. Iowa's Gatorade player of the year also is visiting the Hawkeyes this weekend. Noah Clayberg of Pella was offered a gray shirt opportunity by Iowa earlier this week, meaning that he would enroll at Iowa in the fall, pay his own way and join the program on schoiarship at mid-year during the next academic year. Clayberg quarterbacked the Dutch to the Iowa 3A state title, but has been recruited by Iowa as a safety. The 5-11, 202-pound Clayberg has also been offered a preferred walk-on opportunity by Iowa. He holds scholarship offers from Western Illinois, South Dakota and South Dakota State. Keith Duncan is the kicker who is scheduled to visit Iowa this weekend. He also has been offered a preferred walk-on opportunity. Duncan has earned all-state honors in North Carolina the past two years while competing for Weddington High School in Matthews, N.C. Offered a half-scholarship by Furman at the FCS level, Duncan hit 22-of-29 field goal attempts last fall will all seven of his misses coming on 12 attempts from 50 yards or longer. The visits come at the end of a week that has seen Iowa coaches crisscrossing the country, making a number of in-home visits with both players who have committed and those the Hawkeyes are still seeking commitments from. Iowa currently has verbal commitments from 23 players for its 2016 recruiting class and is expected to sign as many as 25 in this year's group.

The big catch

Monday, January 18th, 2016
With commitments from four instate players, Iowa was already off to a solid start in piecing together its 2017 football recruiting class. Securing a commitment from one of the country's top prospects in A.J. Epenesa on Sunday only added the promise of a recruiting class the Hawkeyes won't sign for another 54 weeks. Ranked as a top-30 recruit nationally by all of the major scouting services, Epenesa will likely end up as the highest-ranked recruit to sign with Iowa in Kirk Ferentz's tenure as the program's head coach. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound junior at Edwardsville High School in suburban St. Louis is what Iowa likes in its recruits, an exception multi-sport athlete whose abilities beyond the confines of the football field define why Epenesa had his choice of nearly every program in the country. Beyond his skills as a defensive end, and strength that makes him a school-record holder in the discus, Epenesa's athletic ability make him a force on state-ranked basketball team. He leads Edwardsville in both scoring and rebounding, displaying good foot speed for an athlete of his size as well as a good shooting touch. Epenesa has everything a college program looks for in a defensive end today. He has size. He has quickness. He has flexibility and has demonstrated that he can move. He has a great future and will only develop further once he becomes a regular in Chris Doyle's strength and conditioning program. Epenesa demonstrated something perhaps more important in reaching his decision now and in how he delivered that decision to Iowa coaches. He was surrounded by his entire family when he told coach Kirk Ferentz on Sunday that he was committing. The son of former Hawkeye defensive tackle Epenesa Epenesa posed for a picture with his parents, brothers and sister taken during the family's visit to Iowa City on Sunday. As was the case when his sister, Sam, committed to play volleyball at Purdue, the entire family was present when A.J. Epenesa announced that he would follow in his father's footsteps and play for Iowa. He has watched games at Kinnick Stadium since he was in elementary school and his commitment is not only about fulfilling his own dream of one day playing for Iowa but about having an opportunity to help the Hawkeye program continue to grow. His early commitment facilitates that. It will provide Iowa with some early momentum in recruiting and should help attract other top players to the program. Epenesa joins four linemen and a tight end in as the initial members of the Hawkeyes' 2017 recruiting class, a statement of where Iowa's initial priorities in recruiting are at as they continue to build off of the momentum started on the field in 2015 with a run to the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. The big catch that Epenesa provides allows Iowa to build off of that success even before its 2016 recruiting class signs on the bottom line in a little over two weeks.

The final countdown

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
Alabama and Clemson put on quite a show in the national title game and are deserving the top two spots in the final Associated Press college football poll. My ballot includes Stanford, Ohio State and TCU, all bowl winners in the third through fifth spots. Michigan State, Oklahoma and Iowa, which filled those spots in my last ballot in December and were blown out in bowl games, moved down as a block in the sixth through eighth spots in the my final ballot. I contemplated moving the Hawkeyes into the ninth spot they ultimately ended up in on the final poll - flipping them with a one-loss Houston team that finished eighth - but settled on moving the Spartans, Sooners and Hawkeyes together after all ended up with similar results against similar competition. The 10th spot on my final ballot went to Notre Dame, which I just noticed was the same spot I voted the Irish on my preseason ballot. Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa are among six Big Ten teams on my final ballot. I voted Michigan in 11th following its dominant win in Orlando on New Year's Day and positioned Northwestern and Wisconsin in the 16th and 17th slots, with the Wildcats dropping five spots and Badgers rising three following bowl performances. Here is a look at my final AP ballot: 1. Alabama 2. Clemson 3. Stanford 4. Ohio State 5. TCU 6. Michigan State 7. Oklahoma 8. Iowa 9. Houston 10. Notre Dame 11. Michigan 12. Mississippi 13. Baylor 14. North Carolina 15. Oklahoma State 16. Northwestern 17. Wisconsin 18. Oregon 19. Navy 20. LSU 21. Florida State 22. Utah 23. Western Kentucky 24. Toledo 25. BYU

The early view

Thursday, January 7th, 2016
This year's champion won't be crowned until Monday night but Athlon Sports is already taking an early look at the college football landscape for 2016 and it ranks Iowa as a top-20 team nationally at the team to beat in the Big Ten West Division. In its early top 25 released this week, Athlon ranks the Hawkeyes 17th overall and has Iowa fourth among four Big Ten teams in its poll. From where things stand in early January, the Hawkeyes probably do rate as the favorite in the West Division based on their success this season and a collection of returning starters that includes eight players on one of the league's most dominant defenses. In its assessment, Athlon writes, "Kirk Ferentz 3.0 was nearly enough for Iowa to reach the College Football Playoff in 2015. The Hawkeyes won't fly under the radar in 2016, as Iowa should open next season as the favorite in the Big Ten's West Division. "Quarterback C.J. Beathard had a breakout season in 2015 and returns to anchor the offense. Replacing running back Jordan Canzeri, receiver Tevaun Smith and offensive linemen Jordan Walsh and Austin Blythe top the priority list for coordinator Greg Davis this spring.'' It goes on point out that the Hawkeye defense "received a boost with the announcement top cornerback Desmond King would return for his senior year'' and mentions the possibility of Drew Ott returning as well. The publication also notes Iowa's changing schedule. "The schedule is also a huge advantage for Iowa, as Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska all visit Iowa City in 2016.'' Athlon lists Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State as its top four heading into 2016, but points out the Buckeyes have plenty of holes to fill following nine early exits for the NFL and a schedule that includes a road trip to Oklahoma as well as consecutive games with Michigan State and Michigan in the final weeks of the regular season. Athlon ranks the Wolverines seventh and the Spartans 11th in its early poll. It includes Northwestern and Wisconsin in an alphabetically listed group of 10 teams to watch just outside of its top 25.

A refreshing choice

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016
It would have been easy for Desmond King to take the money and run. But, the Iowa cornerback who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football this season opted to return for his senior season in a Hawkeye uniform. It's a refreshing choice. And, it probably was the right thing to do. King confirmed on Instagram on Tuesday what his mother let the world know on Monday night -- that he planned to return to Iowa next fall, planning not only to earn a degree but to continue to work to grow his game. "Feels good to finish my education and be with my brothers for my senior year,'' King wrote. "There will be those that say my decision is wrong but it's what's best for me. Let's make it a good one fellas.'' It's a decision that shows some maturity on the part of a player who celebrated his 21st birthday less than a month ago. King and his mother, Yvette Powell, have placed a value on education and he has said all along that would factor into his decision. What we also don't know is what King learned from the NFL draft advisory committee, which provided him with some insight about where he might end up in this year's draft. King wisely talked things over with family members and coaches before reaching his decision. He showed tremendous growth in his game this past season, but both King and coaches see work that remains to be done. Prior to the Rose Bowl, coach Kirk Ferentz said he believes King has the ability to grow his game to an entirely different level with continued progress. Remember, he was thrown into action for Iowa as an 18-year-old true freshman. In terms of age, another year of seasoning at the college level should benefit him. In a secondary which returns Greg Mabin at the other corner and Miles Taylor at strong safety among eight returning starters on defense, King becomes part of a group which has a chance to become of the strongest defenses in Hawkeye history. He has a chance to lead that effort and with continued growth become one of the most decorated defenders to ever play for the Iowa. King seems to want to make that happen.