CHICAGO — The seniors Iowa brought to Big Ten media days have seen 10 running backs come, go or tear an ACL.
They don’t believe in curses. They acknowledge the mix of fate and bad decisions that have made the Iowa running back position a source of frustration and wonderment. And all they can do is laugh.
The conversation starts with a heavy sigh from quarterback James Vandenberg.
“It’s been going on for a year now, two years,” Vandenberg said Friday.
You could really go back to the 2001 Alamo Bowl. Senior Ladell Betts toiled for three years behind an inexperienced offensive line that really came together in San Antonio. Betts missed the game because of a sore hamstring.
“I think we’ll be productive at running back,” center James Ferentz said. “If we have to move my brother Steve over from tight end [Steven Ferentz is a walk-on freshman at Iowa this season], I think we’ll be productive at running back.”
In light of Friday’s news away from the field, it might come to that.
Sophomore running back De’Andre Johnson was charged with disorderly house on Thursday night. According to an Iowa City Police criminal complaint, officers were called to 1311 W. Benton St., the Johnson’s home, at 11:27 p.m. for complaints of a loud party. Police saw about 50 people in the front and side yards.
“Disorderly house – it’s not going to rock the Richter scale, but there will be consequences,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Friday. “He didn’t sneeze, too, did he?”
And there’s the gallows humor when it comes to Iowa running back.
Jevon Pugh, Jeff Brinson and Nate Guillory were on the team when Vandenberg and James Ferentz — fifth-year seniors — arrived at Iowa. Only Brinson made it to 2010 when he transferred out after spring practice.
In ’09, running back-to-be Jewel Hampton suffered a torn ACL in camp. Redshirt freshman Adam Robinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher take over for Paki O’Meara and Iowa goes on to win Orange Bowl.
The trio of Robinson, Wegher and Hampton see their careers at Iowa end in 2010. Wegher was the first to go, quitting the team two days into fall camp. Hampton suffered another torn ACL and transferred to Southern Illinois prior to Iowa’s Insight Bowl appearance. Robinson suffered a pair of concussions during the season, was arrested for marijuana possession the night before the Insight Bowl and subsequently dismissed from the team.
Marcus Coker gained 1,384 yards and 15 TDs. He was suspended for the bowl game and transferred to Stony Brook after being involved in an investigation for an alleged sexual assault. The investigation found nothing. The charges were dropped. True freshman Mika’il McCall showed promise in Iowa’s opener against Tennessee Tech. He suffered a broken ankle in the game and returned for Purdue. The next week, he was suspended for an unspecified violation and last winter transferred to Southern Illinois.
This spring, sophomore Jordan Canzeri, the probable starter, suffered a torn ACL. His rehab is at hyperspeed and coach Ferentz said there’s a possibility he could be back for 2012. (We’ll see,” Ferentz said. “He’s doing well. We’re going to be conservative on that one. We’ll see. You never want to say never.”)
That’s nine running backs gone and one (Canzeri) still on the team and rehabbing an ACL injury. Wegher, Robinson and Hampton would’ve been seniors this year. Coker would be a junior and headed toward the top three rushers in Iowa history.
“I knew all of them and I was good friends with all of them,” senior cornerback Micah Hyde said. “I love Marcus Coker. He’s not a bad person. We’re still friends. I tried to get to know all of those guys on the personal level.
“It’s unfortunate, but college football isn’t made for everybody. It’s a tough sport. It’s a job, a full-time job. You’ve got to be on top of the ball. The No. 1 thing is mentally. You’ve got to be positive.
“It’s a full-time job and not everyone can do it.”
That brings us to 2012 and who’s next.
Beyond Canzeri, Iowa has sophomores Damon Bullock and Johnson, whose disorderly ticket couldn’t have come at a worse time. Iowa players concluded summer conditioning this week and start practice next Friday. This happened basically one day into a one-week vacation.
Incoming freshman Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill also are possibilities. Coach Ferentz has said they will likely play right away.
“The bottom line is you try to find a way to be successful and we’ve been able to do that at that position,” Ferentz said. “I think you have a chance to find running backs if you’re patient.”
In ’08, Shonn Greene set Iowa’s season rushing record (1,850 yards) and season TDs (20). In ’09, the Hawkeyes pieced together a running game between Robinson and Wegher.
Ferentz sees this as an ’09, a pieced-together, running back-by-committee type of deal.
“I think this will be more like an ’09 thing,” Ferentz said, “where we’re rotating guys in and out.”
And by “out,” he didn’t mean out of Iowa City.