1. The Solon/Mid-Prairie connection — Linebacker James Morris calls the fronts for Iowa’s defense. He won three state titles during his prep days at Solon High School. Along the way to the 2009 Class 2A title during Morris’ senior year, Solon ran over Mid-Prairie, 42-13.
The Spartans outgained Mid-Prairie, 386 yards to 162. The Hawks had a pesky running back who carried his team as far as he could against the monster power that Solon was. Tanner Miller gained 60 yards on 10 carries that night, Nov. 3, 2009.
As the free safety, Miller calls the coverages for Iowa’s secondary. Iowa’s two defensive signal callers, both fourth-year seniors, grew up a 37-mile car ride apart.
“We’ve become pretty good friends since we’ve come here,” said Miller, who goes into this weekend with exactly 200 career tackles at Iowa. “I’m definitely glad the days of competing against him and Solon are in the past.”
Morris, ” I don’t know how many plays he made in the game we played against them,” he said with a laugh. “I remember the games weren’t close. Tanner and I are friends, so I can say that.”
The two took different paths to their scholarships at Iowa. Morris, a four-year starer, was offered a scholarship and committed to the Hawkeyes as a sophomore in 2008. Miller, a three-year starter, didn’t get his offer until his cell phone buzzed on a late January basketball bus ride. They ended up combining for 74 combined starts and 574 tackles.
They played each other as preps. They’ll play their final game in Kinnick Stadium together Saturday. Morris will call the defensive formation. Miller will put the secondary into its coverage calls.
2. The Senior Day lament — This game celebrates the ones who made it four or five years. In high-speed montage style, here’s what happens after a recruit signs to play college football for a school: Academics, camp, weights, conditioning, injuries, weights, conditioning, more academics, all the weights and conditioning and camps and then, if they’re lucky, they get to play in games.
Not everyone who signs on makes it the four years.
The 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes make up your fifth- and fourth-year players on this roster. Iowa signed 40 players in that period. Of the players Iowa listed as signees in February of 2009-10, 19 players left before their eligibility was up. That’s significant and a big part of the reason this team has had to fight its way back from last year’s 4-8 cave-in.
Coach Kirk Ferentz often describes Iowa as a “developmental” program, meaning it builds players post-recruiting. The departures — case-by-case, several different reasons with no real patterns — caused the roster shortages running back (famously), linebacker and cut into overall special teams play. Ferentz will never mention it, but it took a chunk out of Iowa.
“You’re always going to have guys leave, that’s going to happen with every team,” Miller said. “There’s a trust factor. You’re going to find out who’s bought into the system and who hasn’t. Those guys have a way of weeding themselves out. If someone is going to stray from the path, you’ve got to get them out.”
Iowa has asked fans to be in their seats before 10:45 a.m. today for the senior recognition. Some will finish all-conference, some will finish as backup, but they all finished the race. Appreciate that achievement, because it is all of that and more.
3. BBQ’d crow — During the last two preseasons, I’ve counted down the top 45 players on Iowa’s roster, ranking them from No. 45 to 1. The idea is that it takes 45 contributors — from starting QB to long snapper — to make a team go. It’s an exercise built more for introductions than anything else.
This year, No. 45 was backup corner Maurice Fleming. I thought he might contribute some on special teams and he has seen some time there. No. 1 was LT Brandon Scherff. No. 12 was QB Cody Sokol. No. 10 was kicker Mike Meyer.
No. 14 was cough, cough, cough. Who was that again? You know, harrumph, cough, cough, cough.
OK, OK, it was defensive tackle Carl Davis. Hear me out. Coming into this season, Davis had 16 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. For his career.
This year, he has 27 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. The most impressive number is how many snaps Davis has played. As a sophomore in ’12, he played maybe — big maybe — double digit snaps every game. Then, he was still working back from knee surgery to correct a kneecap that twice popped out of place. This season, you’d have to estimate that Davis has played 85 percent of Iowa’s defensive snaps, which would put him at more than 550.
Davis and fellow junior defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat (goodness gracious, I had him at No. 18) are good now and will give Iowa a fantastic headstart in 2014.
Remember, that top 45 is for introduction purposes only.
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