IOWA CITY — John Wienke fit the image of a traditional Michigan quarterback under former coach Lloyd Carr.
Wienke is tall at 6-foot-5, thick at 220 pounds and possesses a powerful left arm. Wienke threw 34 touchdown passes in both his junior and senior seasons and was tabbed as Illinois’ top quarterback by the Football Coaches Association after each season. Michigan and Iowa recruited Wienke hard, and Wienke picked Michigan.
But when Carr retired following the 2008 Capital One Bowl, Wienke had conflicting thoughts. He was a pro-style quarterback, and incoming coach Rich Rodriguez ran a spread option attack. Wienke sought Carr for advice, and the former Michigan coach surprised him with his answer.
“When Coach Carr retired, he was the one — I actually always liked Iowa — but he told me probably to go with Iowa,” Wienke said. “That’s probably the next-best thing that was going to be for me with my style of play.”
Wienke red-shirted his first year at Iowa and worked along James Vandenberg behind Ricky Stanzi for two seasons. When the position opened in 2011, Vandenberg earned the starting nod, and Wienke became the back-up.
But Wienke has more than one skill set. In 2007, he was named first-team all-state punter by the Chicago Sun-Times despite punting only seven times. In 2010, Wienke booted a football over a practice fence, which immediately caught special teams coach Lester Erb’s attention.
“I just kind of did it,” Wienke said. “Coach Erb said I could expect to go out the next morning and punt with the specialists.”
Wienke kept punting in practice behind Ryan Donahue and Eric Guthrie, both of whom are now in NFL camps. Wienke also practiced holding for extra-points and field goals.
Now a senior, Wienke splits his time between quarterback and punter. Although he’s no longer listed on the quarterback depth chart, Wienke keeps fresh by participating in drills. Other than Vandenberg, no other quarterback has been active for an Iowa game.
Wienke also works on punting fundamentals each day.
“I’m trying to balance the time and give the consistent reps that you need,” Wienke said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s something different. I’m willing to embrace it and hopefully build a consistent base with punting and getting the right steps, the right footwork and the right drops down.”
“When (Wienke) came in, he came in as a quarterback and this is another opportunity for John to get on the field,” Erb said. “He’s really been working on it for about a year and half. Is he seasoned yet? No. But he has been working out at it for a while.”
Wienke is among three players vying for the starting punter role. True freshman Connor Kornbrath worked with the first team during Saturday’s scrimmage and could have the edge right now on playing time. Australian native Johnny Mullings, a sophomore, also competes.
Wienke didn’t envision himself competing at punter when he decommitted from Michigan nearly five years ago. His goal of becoming Iowa’s starting quarterback didn’t materialize, but he’s focused on staying a good teammate.
“I tried to never really let it completely bother me and become depressed,” Wienke said. “I always tried to stay involved with the process of being on a college football team and embracing that. The big part is getting on the field. If I can get on the field anywhere or contribute to this team in a positive way, that’s a good thing.”
Through the perseverance and disappointment, Wienke also has emerged as dependable and loyal. That’s worth something to his teammates and Iowa’s coaching staff.
“They let me pick my roommate this year, and I picked John,” Vandenberg said. “John and I are great friends. He’s somebody that no matter how serious he gets, he’s always there to compliment you or lighten up the mood. He never lets you get too down or up. He’s steady Eddie. He’s always there to cheer you when things aren’t going so well. Through these five years we’ve had a blast.
“He’s taking it all in stride. That’s all you can ask him to do. We appreciate everything he does.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT IOWA’S SPECIAL TEAMS
The Depth Chart
No. 1 — P: Connor Kornbrath, fr., 6-6, 215 or John Wienke, sr., 6-5, 220; K: Mike Meyer, jr., 6-2, 185; Snapper: Casey Kreiter, jr., 6-3, 250; PR: Micah Hyde, sr., 6-1, 190; KR: Keenan Davis, sr., 6-3, 215 and undetermined; Holder: Wienke. No. 2 — P: Jonny Mullings, so., 6-3, 210; K: Marshall Koehn, #fr., 6-0, 160; Snapper: Steve Bigach, sr., 6-3, 282; PR: B.J. Lowery, jr., 5-11, 188 or Maurice Fleming, fr., 6-0, 185. KR: undetermined. Others — K: Trent Mossbrucker, sr., 6-0, 204.
Mike Meyer’s season mirrored the team’s last year. At times he was very good. He connected on four field goals against Iowa State, including a career-long 50-yarder. Meyer nailed his first six field goals of the season and at one point had made 12-of-14 field-goal attempts. But he was erratic later in the season. He missed two field goals, including one from 24 yards out, in a 22-21 loss at Minnesota. He missed four of his final six field-goal attempts. But Iowa’s coaches have faith that he’ll remain the guy. “Mike Meyer had a tremendous spring,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s going into his third year now as a performer, and we really expect him to be playing at a higher level.” Red-shirt freshman Marshall Koehn has ability and is the backup. Fifth-year senior Trent Mossbrucker was the team’s primary kicker in 2008 and but has rarely played since the third game of the 2010 season.
Iowa’s coaching staff faces an interesting decision this fall at punter. John Wienke moved from quarterback to punter this year, and he seems the dependable, safe selection because he’s also the holder on extra-points and field goals. True freshman Connor Kornbrath, who hails from West Virginia, averaged 39.5 yards a punt as a senior in high school and earned all-state honors. He also clubbed 35 touchbacks in 73 attempts. Jonny Mullings is a wild card, although he seems set at third in this three-man race. He’s a 24-year-old Australian native who has earned rugby awards in England and Australia. That has yet to translate to the football field, however. “Right now it’s equal. It’s equal in the way that we’re looking at it,” special teams coach Lester Erb said early in camp. “It’s going to go through camp, and it may go through halfway through the season. But we’ll end up settling up on somebody.”
Senior cornerback Micah Hyde returns for his second season as the team’s punt returner. He returned 13 for 106 yards, including a 30-yard return against Louisiana-Monroe. But he also had 17 fair catches. Iowa traditionally is conservative on punt return and that won’t change now that linebackers coach LeVar Woods is running punt return. “If it’s sticky at all, fair catch it,” Hyde said. “If you’ve got room to work, go ahead and make a play.” … Senior wide receiver Keenan Davis is likely to return kickoffs for the fourth straight year, although each season he’s performed that task in a secondary role. Davis returned four last year for a 19.5 average. Sophomore receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley also returned four, while running back Damon Bullock brought back two kickoffs. It’s likely several receivers and defensive backs get an opportunity to return kickoffs this season. The receiver list could include true freshman Maurice Fleming, junior Don Shumpert, junior Jordan Cotton or red-shirt freshman Jacob Hillyer among others.