Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri talks team's surprising start and coach Kirk Ferentz
So you probably didn't pick Iowa to start the season 5–0. Most didn't. Jordan Canzeri knows that, but he doesn't hold it against anybody. The 5' 9", 192-pound running back has become the go-to option for the ground game of the upstart Hawkeyes, who look to continue their winning ways on Saturday when they host 4–1 Illinois in Iowa City. Canzeri's been busy this season, rushing 89 times for 441 yards and eight touchdowns, but he took time to chat with Campus Rush about coach Kirk Ferentz and postgame dancing, farming and the Big Ten.
Campus Rush: I think around the country there's an attitude of, "Holy moly, Iowa is undefeated!" In the locker room, do you guys feel that same sense of excitement, or is it more of, "This is what we've been waiting for"?
Jordan Canzeri: It's just a confidence factor from the amount of work we put into the off-season, and the decision we made to change the style of the work we put in outside of practice. Our whole attitude shift, our belief in the work we can do, it's showing up on the field. We're obviously excited because it's exactly what we wanted to do, but it's something we knew we could [do]. It's a confidence with each other, the coaches and the whole program. We have a good mentality.
CR: As a running back, you can appreciate how frustrating it is to have your ground game bottled up. That's exactly what your defense did last week in a 10–6 win at Wisconsin—you go against that same defense every day in practice. Why was it able to shut down the Badgers?
JC: [Our guys] practice very hard. Again, very committed to what they do and especially to making sure they do the little things every single day—the type of stuff it's easy to not do, and the type of stuff that gets you beat. They've adapted together; they're one solid unit and it shows up on the field, how hard they all work and what they put in. As an offense, we didn't produce as much as we would have liked to [at Wisconsin] but they had a great defense as well. We're definitely very proud of what our defense accomplished, but again, it's something we knew it was capable of.
CR: Describe the Big Ten in five words or less:
JC: Hard-fought, close, competitive and exciting.
So many people look at rankings and they think that they tell the whole story but they don't understand that every single game you have to give it your all. It's so competitive anybody can come out with a win.
CR: You played as a true freshman in 2011. What was it like to be thrown into the deep end right away?
JC: It was nerve-racking. Being from Troy, New York, the most people we ever had at my home games was about 300. So playing in front of more than 70,000, that was an amazing experience. It's something I'll remember forever. Kinnick Stadium is so awesome, and I'm so blessed to be able to play there. Even now, as a fifth year [senior], every single time I come out of that tunnel, I get the same feeling I had my freshman year. It's awesome to be a part of that.
CR: What's something about Kirk Ferentz that would surprise people?
JC: The thing is, there were plenty of people who wanted him gone, and there was all that talk. But the team, we never doubted him and we always stuck behind him. People don't understand how much of a great person and a great coach he is. He develops so many good men out of this program. I'm so happy I'm at a program like this because I feel like once football is over and I can't play, I'll have learned so much from this program about becoming a respectful man. Coach Ferentz, he just cares so much about the game. I don't know if a lot of people know it, but he gets emotional and that's awesome to see, that you have a head coach who cares so much about the game, so much about us, our character and what goes on after football. He doesn't just care about the guys he has on his roster this year.
CR: On Twitter, we see lots of coaches dancing and getting down in the locker room. Does coach Ferentz ever bust a move in postgame celebrations?
JC: No. But he likes to crack jokes and get us all laughing, so he likes to celebrate. When you're looking at programs [as a recruit] that's what you want, that's what makes college football great, when you have coaches like him, where it's not just a business thing, it's a real relationship.
CR: What do you think it would take for him to dance on national TV? Have you guys had postgame conversations about it?
JC: No. I don't think I've ever seen him dance. But maybe, if we continue to do what we're doing, we can arrange something.
CR: You grew up three hours from Manhattan and now you go to college in Iowa—how different is it? Before you went, did you have some stereotypes in your mind about what the Midwest would be like?
JC: To tell you the truth, I didn't even know where Iowa was on the map. I knew it was a state, but wasn't sure where. Yeah, I had stereotypes in my mind that it was all corn and farms and everything, and I had people back home picking on me saying I was going to come back a farmer. And it didn't help that the first time I came out here I drove, so I saw a lot of cornfields.
But when I got here, I loved it right away. [Iowa City] has a lot, it's a great college town, there's always something to do. But then it's also a laid-back type of city with awesome people who are so nice. It was different, but I adapted.
CR: So do you want to be a farmer now, and wear overalls?
JC: I wouldn't say I'm into the outfits, but I listen to a little more country [music] now. We have a couple guys on the team who are from farming families and they tell us all about it. I'm not sure I would go do that. It's so much work! I have been to a couple rodeos.
CR: What's your pregame routine? Any superstitious habits?
JC: Since my freshman year, I draw what I call "focal points;" it's for my faith and it's something to look at in the midst of competition that can give you peace. I draw a cross on each palm and each ankle and then I also choose a Bible verse and write that on my wrist [tape]. This year I make sure I represent certain people, too.
There's a wristband I always wear, every single game and practice. I never take it off. It's for a child named Jackson who passed [away] from leukemia last year. I'm really close to his family now, and it's been a blessing to see a family that's so loving and caring and does so much for other people. Also there's a fan [who recently passed away], his name was Bob, he was a huge Hawkeye. His granddaughter went to a Bible study I'm a part of and I write his initials on my wrist. And I had a close family friend who passed away this year and I've been writing his name, Leon, on my wrist every game. I just like to mark those things. It's something you can look on in the midst of competition and it can give you the peace and reassurance you need.
CR: I know you're passionate about community service, particularly at the local Children's Hospital. How does taking time for that change your perspective on football?
JC: It makes you understand what your identity is. We put so much time, effort and emotion, our whole lives, into football that if it ever comes to an end, it can devastate a person. It can just destroy them. When I'm around so many people who suffer through a lot more serious situations, who go through a lot more than me, it humbles you. To be around them and make them smile, make them happy, just for a couple hours a day, it's something I really care about.… It makes me understand there's so much more to life than just what we do on the field.
CR: Your apartment is on fire and you can only save three things. What are you taking?
JC: Hmm. O.K. I'd think that my phone and my wallet are already in my pocket, so they wouldn't count. I have this DVD, it was given to me on my 16th birthday, highlights of me playing football as a kid and a slideshow of photos of me and my family. That's something I wouldn't want to lose. Another thing would probably be my projector I just bought, because that cost a lot. I love watching movies. I have a problem with $5 movie bins, because I'll walk away with 10 of them. It's bad.
Oh, so hopefully none of my roommates are in the apartment during this scenario because they'd obviously come first.… Object wise, I don't really have any other valuables, so I'd say probably my favorite suit because I really like to dress up. I like to look fancy sometimes.