James Ferentz's mayhem management

Senior center James Ferentz lives on the line in the 'dirt road free-for-all'

  • Photos
March 31, 2014 | 11:44 pm

IOWA CITY -- The following will be just a sliver, and maybe not even that much, of what James Ferentz is in total.

This doesn't even tell the whole story of Ferentz as a player. He'll begin his third year as Iowa's starting center today against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. He earned honorable mention all-Big Ten last season. He's on the Rimington Award (which goes to the nation's top center) watch list. Today will be his 27th consecutive start.

If, however, you want to paint a picture of James Ferentz the football player, you have to include the "edge" part. It's not everything, but it's something.

During a summer conversation, a questioner pushed the "lead by example" angle in regard to James Ferentz, but his dad, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, smiled a knowing smile.

"You’d be surprised," Kirk Ferentz said. "There’s a little more going on than you might think."

Flash to the Aug. 13 scrimmage, an inside running drill ended with James Ferentz and defensive tackle Darian Cooper trading jabs. It was short-lived. They quickly went back to doing their jobs.

"James and I battle, we battle a lot," Cooper said. "I personally, I like the battles. It works for me. I know if he's willing to come after me this hard when we're in practice, there's no chance for everybody else."

During a game, the volume goes up. Remember, part of the mayhem for the center is calling out line schemes before the ball is snapped. If the center wants to be heard, he has to . . . let's say he has to project.

"You hear him just screaming during games on calls [O-line calls] or missed blocks, stuff like that," quarterback James Vandenberg said. "The intensity he plays with inspires everybody. It really shows you how much he cares and I think it makes him the player he is.

"He's an intense guy who plays an extremely tense position. I think it's hard to play that position without that disposition."

James Ferentz is a fan of country star Shooter Jennings. Jennings doesn't easily fit into a musical genre and actually has pushed the "XXX" movement, which carries the motto "too rock for country, and too country for rock.”

A Jennings' lyric from the song "Outlaw You" fits nicely here, "It's a dirt road free-for-all, some old boys sayin' they're outlaws. They dress the part and they talk the talk. You know they've been taught to walk the walk."

Let's note here that Ferentz has never been called for a personal foul. At least in a game he hasn't.

"In a game, no. In practices, yes," Ferentz said when asked if he's ever "lost it." "I've had times where it negatively affected my performance. I can remember sitting down with coach [Reese] Morgan [who coached Iowa's O-line before moving to D-line this offseason] and having him point that out to me. That's when I realized if you take it too far, you're doing a lot of damage not only to yourself but to the team."

If it seems as though there's a lesson in just about every moment in football, it's because there is. You can't give in to the blackout temper fit, no matter how much you think the guy across from you deserves it. This occurred to James Ferentz when he had a hand under -- Mike Daniels, maybe? -- one of his teammate's facemasks during an anonymous practice in the last few years.

"It's taking that energy and making it more useful and productive," Ferentz said. "It doesn't do anyone any good if I go out and get a 15-yard penalty. I have to focus on the job and use all that energy for the play."

It didn't occur to him in the 2010 Insight Bowl, when after a Missouri defender ripped off his helmet, Ferentz dogged him for one or maybe two or three counts after the whistle.

"Yeah, yeah, I didn't like that and I made that clear," he said. "I was pretty fortunate to get out of that one without any trouble."

Ferentz plays center. He lives in the scrum. It's a monster pile and probably a little like being in a car wreck every two minutes. He knows this lends itself to a little more scratching and clawing because it's basically out of sight of the TV camera. "As a center, I have the opportunity to go out there and be a little more physical," he said.

So, can you ever really learn the lesson on when to pull up? And when you feel as though you've learned it, how hard is it to stick to it?

"Um, no. Yes and no. That's kind of a tough one," Ferentz said with a laugh. "I just remember after coach Morgan and I had that meeting, when things would get to a boiling point, you just look back and just remember, do you want to keep moving forward or do you want to start going backward? At that point, it's pretty clear you want to keep moving ahead."

This is the kind of intensity that can rally teammates.

"I think it's more something that pumps me and other guys up on the offense even more," Vandenberg said.

It's kind of a thing for Iowa's offensive line, apparently. This summer, ESPN.com polled 28 Big Ten players on various topics, including "dirtiest player." Of the 16 votes cast in this category one went to Iowa's offensive line. No names, just "Iowa's offensive line.'

"You've got to have a certain kind of crazy to play the way we want to play," freshman guard Austin Blythe said. "James is definitely the guy we look up to develop that trait. I think it's a good trait to have. You can never be too physical or too crazy."

Not in a dirt road free-for-all.

EXTRA QUOTAGE -- This isn't the cutting room floor -- I've used a lot of these quotes -- but this is where you'll find the transcriptions for some of the interviews that went into this story.

Errors stand. I whipped through these.

Thanks for reading!

JF

Have to -- Nah, I just want to out there and play as hard as I can. I never want to look back and feel like I left something out on the field. That's a personal goal of mine. It's something I take a lot of pride in. -- What about the splatter -- Yeah, that's a natural thing. Football is a physical sport and a lot of times angers and tensions will rise, but I think that's a reflection of our team. We handle things on the field and it never carries over to the lockerroom and outside of it. We're a very close team. Obviously, Cooper and I get into it here and there. That's just the nature of the game. He understands that and I understand that. Absolutely nothing personal, and I think he would tell you the same thing. We're a close team. You almost have to have a brotherly relationship to do things like that and then move forward.

A flag for this -- Yeah, it's kind of hard to put an exact time and date on it. But I know there have been a few times where coach Morgan has pulled me aside. I need that every now and then. -- Missouri/helmet -- Yeah, yeah, I didn't like that and I made that clear. I was pretty fortunate to get out of that one without any trouble.

Grown into that, make it work for you -- That's something that coach Morgan worked with me on. Brian has carried that over. It's taking that energy and making it more useful and productive. It doesn't do anyone any good if I go out and get a 15-yard penalty. I have to focus on the job and use all that energy for the play.

Lost it -- In a game, no. In practices, yes. I've had times where it negatively affected my performance. I can remember sitting down with coach Morgan and having him point that out to me. That's when I realized if you take it too far, you're doing a lot of damage not only to yourself but to the team.

When is that lesson learned, can it ever be learned? -- Um, no. Yes and no. That's kind of a tough one. I just remember after coach Morgan and I had that meeting, when things would get to a boiling point, you just look back and just remember, do you want to keep moving forward or do you want to start going backward? At that point, it's pretty clear you want to keep moving ahead.

City High too -- Hard to say. -- I've always tried to play physically. I try to do that everyday out on the field.

Little guy -- Yeah, I guess it there could be some little man's syndrome going on there. But standing next to Brandon Scherff, I am a little guy. He's got a lot going on. I try to make my presence known. As a center, I have the opportunity to go out there and be a little more physical.

James Vandy

Edge, flag? -- I don't think I've ever said anything to him about it. I think it's more something that pumps me and other guys up on the offense even more. You hear him just screaming during games on calls [O-line calls] or missed blocks, stuff like that. The intensity he plays with inspires everybody. It really shows you how much he cares and I think it makes him the player he is. He's an intense guy who plays an extremely tense position. I think it's hard to play that position without that disposition.

Darian Cooper

Run ins -- When you're playing on the offensive and defensive line, it's almost bred into you. You're constantly clashing into each other. It's hot out. You want your side of the ball to be as dominant as possible; they want their side of the ball to be as dominant as possible. Everybody's willing to do what they have to do to put it out there. James and I battle, we battle a lot. I personally, I like the battles. It works for me. I know if he's willing to come after me this hard when we're in practice, there's no chance for everybody else.

James and I battle, we battle a lot.

Know what you can and can't do -- The coaches are good at breaking it up before it ever crosses that line. When it's on the field, it's on the field. When we go into the lockerroom and we're all cool.

Bad ones in camp, like 15 rounds -- Who's to say when it's going to happen? You can kind of feel it. You just know. Maybe someone pushes you after the play. You're not feeling like being pushed. It can spawn out of anything.

Blythe

James as a crazy man -- I think we're all like that in a way. You've got to have a certain kind of crazy to play the way we want to play. James is definitely the guy we look up to develop that trait. I think it's a good trait to have. You can never be too physical or too crazy. -- A little guy? -- I don't know if he's necessarily undersized. He might be, but he definitely doesn't play like it. He doesn't care. He just goes out there. He doesn't care who's lined up across from him. He just goes. -- Scrapes -- No, I didn't. I think it's a little different for me. I don't take things personally. I just shake it off and get to the next play. He's fighting me for a reason, so I probably did my job. Just go back and do it the next play.

Carl Davis

Going against James -- That's what he does. He doesn't do it too much on me. In one-on-ones, he might get an extra hand in or something like that. I just try to do what I've got to do, but he's a great competitor. He's a great guy to have on your team. He makes everybody better around him. The defensive tackles get better going against him. -- The physical edge -- I like going against James everyday. He's a great player. I accept the challenge. He's very technical. I know if I can make a couple of plays against him, I'm getting better.

KF

KF: He didn’t, which is ironic in that he’s not tall. But I think Brian would be the first to tell you, James was the better high school player and he’s the better college player. I don’t mean that in a negative way toward Brian, but James can carry his own. [The height thing.] Yes, a lot of people make that mistake and, in his case, it was a mistake. He’s a fairly salty player out there.

All that being said, he would tell you he’s a ‘tweener. All of our kids have been tweeners coming in at the college level, so same story.

CRG: Brian seemed like the type of player who led in a huddle. I think James has your attention with the pace he sets.

KF: You’d be surprised. There’s a little more going on than you might think. James is fairly active.

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Is there other feedback and/or ideas you want to share with us? Tell us here.

 close  don't show again