IOWA CITY — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Iowa fans.
A nice young man from an affluent Chicago suburb, a son of a podiatrist, transfers out of the Air Force Academy after his first semester. He walks on with the University of Iowa football team, and in his third college game not only carries the ball 24 times for 113 yards but has the student section chanting in his honor.
That from a fullback who had eight career rushing yards before Saturday, and dropped a pass in the end zone the week before against Iowa State in a 9-6 loss.
That from a person whose name rhymes with the name of a fairly famous college trophy, leading the students to chant this late in the game.
“Weisman for Heisman!”
I know, what a shopworn story. How utterly predictable that Mark Weisman became Iowa’s primary ballcarrier because starter Damon Bullock was knocked out cold, and replacement Greg Garmon suffered what looked like a dislocated elbow on his third carry in relief of the concussed Bullock, who was eventually able to walk off the field with help.
So Weisman repeatedly got the rock against Northern Iowa, and hit Panther defenders like a boulder in Iowa’s 27-16 victory at Kinnick Stadium.
Instead of suffering his own injury and adding to an Iowa running backs curse more out of control than campaign spending, Weisman delivered the pain. His yards after contact may have been as many as those before it.
“He wore us down,” said UNI Coach Mark Farley.
Who is this guy?
“He’s from somewhere in Illinois,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg replied. “He’s friends with like my third cousin. He’s from Air Force. And he’s got too much muscle on his body to even know what to do with.
“And he’s fast when you get him in the open field.”
But Weisman isn’t a tailback trapped in a fullback’s 225-pound body. It’s fitting that his hometown is Buffalo Grove, Ill., because he’s got plenty of buffalo in him.
“He’s got bad jukes,” Vandenberg said. “But he does a great job of lowering his pads. When you get him with a head of steam he’s a physical guy. Just extremely dependable.
“I think we knew that before he was thrown in there today, but as soon as it got down to Mark I think everybody was extremely confident in his abilities.”
No one in Big Ten country saw Weisman as Big Ten material when he came out of high school in 2010. So he went to Air Force where fullbacks are mainstays in the flyboys’ offense.
But the Air Force isn’t for everyone, not even someone lauded by his Hawkeye teammates for his discipline and willingness to work.
Weisman went through six weeks of basic military training before the two-a-days of football season, and lost over 20 pounds. He wasn’t at his football weight. He quickly realized he had entered much more than a football program.
“They break you down and try to build you up their way,” Weisman said. “It’s tough mentally there.”
His father, Dr. Larry Weisman, said his son went to Air Force “with the idea of playing football as a fullback. They said at the orientation there if you’re just here to play football you may be here for the wrong reason.
“I think what happened is just that. It just wasn’t a good fit for him. … This is what he wanted to do, come to Iowa on the big stage. I couldn’t be happier for him.
“People would tell him ‘You’re not a Division I athlete. You’re Division II, a Division III football player at best,’ ” his father said. “He just wouldn’t let them stop him.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said isn’t entirely sure how Weisman fell into his lap, but he’s been touting the player’s improvement since the end of the Hawkeyes’ summer training camp. Weisman claimed the No. 1 fullback’s job, backing up Ferentz’s claims.
“The biggest question,” Ferentz said, “was will this guy block? Will he block? And he answered that question pretty well, and he’s obviously done some other things.”
Weisman came to Iowa without a scholarship and is still without one. That’s a temporary thing.
“I told him at the end of camp we were booked up at 85,” Ferentz said, “and I told him as soon as we had one available, which would be in January …”
“I came in here as a walk-on,” Weisman said, “and there were no promises with that. I just love the way this program is run.”
So his dad is handling his son’s out-of-state tuition, for now.
“It’s my pleasure to pay,” Larry Weisman said. Then he laughed and added “My painful pleasure.”
Larry and his wife, Ilene, saw and heard things Saturday that would take them at least the entire drive home to Chicagoland to digest.
“We didn’t expect this,” Ilene said.
“I was in total shock,” said her husband. “I was so proud of him. It felt so surreal to see our son out there. He did nice for himself.”
And what about another chant the Iowa students hollered as the game grew later and Weisman kept racking up yards?
That was “Feed the beast!”
“I don’t know what to think of that as a father,” Larry said, “but that’s nice, I guess. It’s a compliment.”
It’s just your run-of-the-mill story about a buffalo from Buffalo Grove with a name rhyming with “Heisman” who rumbles from out of nowhere and into the hearts of thousands of fans. The kid indeed did nice for himself.
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