Iowa expecting big things from linebacker Josey Jewell
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Cornerback Desmond King, the only Jim Thorpe Award winner to return for another season, grabs most of the spotlight on Iowa's defense.
The Hawkeyes have another potential star in linebacker Josey Jewell, an unheralded recruit who has blossomed into one of the top leaders and playmakers.
Jewell had a team-high 126 tackles last season and coach Kirk Ferentz is counting on the junior to be even better this fall as the Hawkeyes - fresh off the first 12-0 regular season in school history - face high expectations as one of the favorites in the Big Ten.
Teammates think so highly of Jewell that last year they voted him the first sophomore team captain Iowa has ever had. The Hawkeyes open against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 3.
''I feel privileged and honored (they) chose me for that,'' Jewell said Saturday at the team's annual media day. ''I just try to lead by example.''
Jewell, a two-star prep prospect from Decorah, Iowa, almost didn't make it to Iowa City.
As a high school senior, Jewell was leaning toward a full-ride offer from hometown Division III Luther College over a partial scholarship from FCS Northern Iowa.
Iowa wasn't completely sold. Ferentz didn't know if Jewell was fast enough for the Big Ten and nothing on tape gave him a clear indication to pull the trigger on a scholarship.
But longtime assistant Reese Morgan, who recruits the state of Iowa, saw something there. Two weeks before signing day, Iowa made the offer.
''I got picked up a little later in the process, decided to come here on a full-ride and I'm glad I did,'' Jewell said.
Jewell's ascension at Iowa began at the end of a disappointing 2014 season, when the Hawkeyes lost three out of four games to finish Big Ten play.
When Iowa trailed Tennessee 42-7 going into the fourth quarter of the bowl game, Ferentz noticed a freshman linebacker working harder than everybody else on the field. That made a lasting impression.
Iowa coaches use the same words to describe Jewell - instinctive, tough and smart. Above all, he's a leader by example.
''He has a knack,'' Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace said. ''Sometimes it's hard to describe and you can't describe it, but he's a football player. He has this internal drive that he wants to be best he can be.''
Ferentz, entering his 18th season at Iowa, has largely found success because of players like Jewell - undersized and underrated prospects that nobody wants who develop into standouts.
Many expect Iowa to continue last year's success. The Hawkeyes return 14 starters from the 2015 team that narrowly lost in the Big Ten championship game and reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years.
Ferentz's approach remains the same.
''The thing that defines success for us is attention to detail,'' Ferentz said. ''We're not entering this year any different than last year.''