Winning Effort In A Losing Cause Jared DeVries passed up the NFL to play his senior season at struggling Iowa

Nov. 30, 1998
Nov. 30, 1998

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Nov. 30, 1998

Faces In The Crowd

Winning Effort In A Losing Cause Jared DeVries passed up the NFL to play his senior season at struggling Iowa

His college football career ended on Saturday afternoon in a
meaningless game between bad teams playing indoors on plastic
grass. In other stadiums, on other fields, conference
championships and bowl berths were furiously decided, while Iowa
and Minnesota played for a year's possession of a 15-inch-high
bronze pig named Floyd of Rosedale. It was Iowa senior defensive
tackle Jared DeVries's 47th consecutive start, and he was the
best player on the field. That was one small consolation to drag
from a miserable autumn. He knows how Ernie Banks felt for all
those years, skillfully playing two and often losing both.

This is an article from the Nov. 30, 1998 issue

It would be comforting to report that every skilled college
player who puts off his entry into the NFL to play his senior
season is rewarded with huge victories, sweet memories and a
higher draft position, but that isn't always the case. DeVries,
who will graduate in December with a degree in communications
and a 2.7 GPA, has again been a very good player. He is a
finalist for the Outland Trophy, a candidate to repeat as the
Big Ten's Defensive Lineman of the Year and a contender for
various first-team All-America honors. He will be drafted. The
season has not been a failure.

Yet so much more was expected. Last January the 6'4", 284-pound
DeVries decided to return to Iowa despite assurances that he
would have been picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.
The Hawkeyes lost loads of offense to the NFL from last year's
7-5 team, but six starters returned on defense, and DeVries felt
a synergy that he had seen elsewhere. "I thought our season this
year could have been a lot like Michigan's was last year, with
that great defense helping the offense," DeVries says. "That
hasn't exactly happened."

Not even close. Iowa finished 3-8, the worst record in coach
Hayden Fry's 20 seasons. It has been a season of embarrassing
lows, including Iowa's first loss in 16 years to in-state rival
Iowa State and a 31-0 loss at home to Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes'
first shutout loss on their home field in five years and just
the second under Fry, who drawls in summary, "Hasn't been
enjoyable for any of us."

Least of all for DeVries. He faced a succession of double teams
and gimmicky blocking schemes as opponents tried to stifle his
lethal pass rush, which brought him 33 sacks in his first three
seasons. "We didn't ever want to single up on him, because his
burst off the line of scrimmage is deadly," says Illinois
offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, whose blockers held DeVries
to six tackles in a 37-14 victory in September. Moreover, Iowa's
secondary played so badly that the Hawkeyes frequently used soft
zone coverages, which made it easy for a quarterback to drop and
throw on rhythm and almost impossible for pass rushers to
pressure him.

As a result, DeVries had to work harder than at any other point
in his career to accumulate good numbers--nine sacks and 18
tackles for losses--reducing each game to a series of small, moral

There is a heroic quality to DeVries's play this season that
affected--and shamed--his teammates. Late in the loss to the
Badgers, Hawkeyes junior quarterback Randy Reiners headed to the
sideline after a three-and-out and averted his gaze as the
defense took the field. "I couldn't even look Jared in the eye,
I was so ashamed of the way we played on offense," says Reiners.
"The guy is the epitome of what a team player is supposed to be.
He came back for us this year, and we've let him down, every
week, while he's out there playing his brains out."

Not only his brains, but also his body. In the second week of
the season DeVries tore the plantar fascia in the arch of his
right foot. It was a painful injury that made pushing off with
any force almost impossible, and it will heal only with
extensive rest. DeVries got through the season by taking
painkillers (either Toradol or Vicodan, Brett Favre's old
favorite) before Tuesday's and Wednesday's full-contact
practices and before all games. "He couldn't even run with us
after practice," Fry said. "That kid was in big-time pain every

It's true, though DeVries recoils at the notion that his injury
should have kept him from playing. "Unless my leg is broken, I'm
going to be on the field," he says. "I've never had a coach
worried about whether I was going to show up for a practice or a
game, and I wasn't about to start this year."

If this martyrdom in the name of football loyalty sounds as if
it were taken from the script of Pleasantville, well, in a
sense, it was. DeVries's ethics are those of an old-fashioned
Iowa farm boy. On a cold, blustery afternoon in early November,
DeVries pilots a '98 Chevy Tahoe, which he and his fiancee,
Jamie Gruenberg, are paying for. He is on the last leg of the
two-hour trip north from Iowa City to his hometown of Aplington.
It is a village of 1,034 residents and consists of a tiny
downtown and thousands of acres of surrounding farms. Gruenberg,
whom he will marry on Jan. 16, sits in the backseat with her
four-month-old Husky pup, Dakota, while DeVries narrates.

"This is downtown. Don't blink," he says. "There's the grain
elevator where my dad used to work. Over there is my
grandfather's farm."

Vern and Marge DeVries have raised five children in Aplington,
the first four of whom have all won college athletic
scholarships. (Darian, 23, played basketball at Northern Iowa
and is now a graduate assistant coach at Creighton; Jodi, 20,
plays volleyball at Northern Iowa, where she is a junior; and
Dusty, 18, is redshirting as a freshman defensive end at Iowa.)
"It's a good thing too," says Marge. "Otherwise, there's no way
we could have sent them all to college." One can only imagine
the pressure on 14-year-old Jay, a freshman quarterback at
Aplington-Parkersburg High.

Next to the house is a neat little shack, adorned with fresh
flowers, where for 22 years Marge has operated her own
hairstyling business (Marge's Country Parlor), working 12-hour
days, with Sundays and Mondays off. Vern worked for 10 years as
a laborer at the grain elevator and for the last 21 years as an
assistant road foreman for Butler County, a job that allows him
the income to spend his nights and occasional early mornings
farming. He has raised cows and hogs, and harvested corn and
beans, since he was a child on the 160-acre farm that his
father, Jake, owned. He has a passion for farming that usually
is seen only in literature and on film. "Everything we have
comes from the soil," he says. "People forget that."

His romance with farming is a source of gentle contention in the
home. "We've been losing money farming for a few years," says
Marge. In fact, Vern doesn't own a farm at all. He rents land
from his father to raise cows, and he does contract work,
combining feed corn and soybean fields for others. But that's
not the point. Vern is a farmer at heart, with agrarian
sensibilities that he passed along to his children.

None took to the business like Jared did. He started with chores
when he was nine, shoveling manure and hauling feed. By the time
he was 12, he was stacking hay bales. "I loved doing chores,"
says Jared. "I have no idea why, but I enjoyed getting up in the
morning and going to work."

At 13 he drove a tractor and by 16 he was running the combine
solo. He developed his love for Iowa football while listening to
the radio in the combine--it was a very loud radio--on Saturday
afternoons, as Fry built a solid program for the likes of
DeVries to worship. (In February, DeVries may become the first
NFL prospect in history to have both participated in and
operated a combine.)

Flush with what his Iowa coaches would later call "farm
strength," DeVries started at running back as a freshman at
Aplington High. He also helped define the antipathy between
Aplington and its larger neighbor Parkersburg when, as a
freshman, he beat up a Parkersburg senior in front of that
town's high school while what seemed like every kid from both
hamlets watched. "I was there, and I remember Jared bouncing
this kid's head off the sidewalk," says Casey Wiegmann, a
Parkersburg native who preceded DeVries at Iowa and now is the
starting center for the Chicago Bears. After Aplington High
merged with Parkersburg High, DeVries remained a starter and
helped the consolidated school win a state title in his senior

In DeVries, Iowa coaches saw a raw kid who, at a bony 220
pounds, lacked the speed and quickness to be a college tailback
but had plenty to be a defensive lineman if he could add a few
pounds. He has added 60 in five years, and along the way
terrorized Big Ten offenses almost weekly.

Iowa's difficult season has confused NFL scouts. There is no
longer unanimity about DeVries's potential. Some still love his
quickness and moves off the ball and his hunger for sacks. "He's
going to go high because he has the tools to be an outstanding
pass rusher," says Rich Snead, the Tennessee Oilers' director of
player personnel. Others fear that he can be handled by a
physical offensive lineman and that despite his quickness off
the ball, he lacks closing speed. "If a guy gets his hands on
him, he's finished," says one AFC scout who spoke on the
condition of anonymity. "Plus his explosiveness is for one or
two steps, not five or 10 yards. I think he's a middle-round
guy." His future depends on the team that picks him and on
arcane things like defensive schemes.

DeVries isn't sweating. He'll work out for the pros, as
instructed, live with his draft position and take his chances in
training camp. "I'll lift the 225 pounds 25 or 30 times, do my
running and see what happens," he says. "I'm not worried."

DeVries isn't looking for tens of millions. That wouldn't be his
style. For DeVries, entertainment is hunting pheasant in the
steppes surrounding Iowa City. He and Wiegmann have a theme song:
Simple Man by the Charlie Daniels Band.

On the way back to Iowa City he sat in the driver's seat of his
truck and pressed the accelerator as the Iowa countryside rolled
by. "All I want to do is make enough money to buy my own farm,"
he said. "My father always told me, 'You can't make any more
land. What's here is here.' That's what I want, some land to

Outside in the cold, farm after barren farm slipped past,
stripped naked by the fall harvest, awaiting spring and

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Jared DeVries in game]COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES IOWA GOTHIC Jared and Jamie will wed in January, before the NFL woos him. [Jared DeVries and Jamie Gruenberg]
DeVries is a finalist for the Outland Trophy. He will be drafted.
The season has not been a failure.
"We didn't want to single up because his burst off the line of
scrimmage is deadly."