TAMPA, Fla. -- Dominic Alvis emerged from a nearly three-month absence from interviews during Outback Bowl prep this week.
His beard, something he's been growing the entire season, was longer. His outlook was brighter. Remember, he's spent the last three months trying to recover from a lower-back injury that forced him to miss most of six games.
Alvis is a senior and his college football biological clock ran out on him much quicker than he wanted. There were some dark moments.
"Just to know that you put so much in and you get thrown a road block like that, it brings you down," said Alvis, a 6-4, 265-pounder from Logan. "There was a time there where I was really depressed and just trying to get my feet back under me. You just have to take one day at a time and pray for the best."
Alvis first suffered the injury Oct. 5 against Michigan State. He left the game in the first half and didn't return. After a bye week, he gave it a shot at Ohio State and lasted a couple of series before heading to the bench clearly in pain.
The worst part, Alvis said, was the four weeks he didn't dress. He spent his days in the training room trying to heal. He watched games from the sidelines in a sweat suit.
"It's not just six months out of the year that you're thinking about football, it's 12," Alvis said. "You work so hard for the year and something like this pops up, it's almost like, 'What do I do now.' There were some dark times and I had to step away from the field. Putting one foot in front of the other was the most important thing."
Alvis wasn't in uniform for Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan. He watched as fellow D-lineman Louis Trinca-Pasat put the finishing touches on an overtime win with a tackle on Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter on the game's final play. Then, Iowa hung on against Michigan and the players rushed the field.
The back finally cooled off enough for him to play maybe a dozen and a half snaps against Nebraska. This week, he declared that he "feels like his old self."
"He looks 100 percent, he's moving around really well," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "He gives us more depth. This is a big offensive line and they can wear you out."
Alvis added a dose of perspective. It rained at practice Sunday, but it's still Florida.
"All things considered, we're down in Tampa, we're having a good time, we get to play a great team," said Alvis, who has four tackles for loss and a sack this season. "You can't ask for anything more."
4-3 here to stay
Iowa has been a 4-3 defense from the minute Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999. It's a fit as far as the players Iowa can attract and develop.
Parker said that starts with finding defensive linemen. Iowa's track record there is solid, and so he sees no reason to move off a 4-3 alignment.
"We're based up front, with big guys on both sides of the ball," said Parker, who's finishing up his second season as defensive coordinator (he re-assumed secondary coach duties after dropping those last season to concentrate on coordinator). "That's where it starts. You have to be strong up the middle. You have to have good inside linebackers, you have to have good safeties. I think that's where it all starts.
"We play a split safety look in 4-3, we have consistency. We didn't give up many big plays. You see a lot of guys do it, try to bring heat all the time, and they give up big plays."
Iowa finished seventh in the nation in total defense (303.2 yards a game). The big plays Parker mentioned? Iowa finished fourth in the country with just 123 plays of 10-plus yards against. On plays of 20-plus yards against, Iowa is tied Florida State for No. 1 in the nation with just 30.
"We've done a good job containing teams and not giving up big plays," Parker said. "I think this is the lowest we've ever been there."
Still a walk-on
Travis Perry will be a junior and Iowa's starting outside linebacker next season. For now, he's also still a walk-on.
Perry has been the backup to Christian Kirksey at the position the last two years. He played on a ton of special teams units. Iowa is getting a ton of mileage out of the sophomore from Urbandale, who walked on at Iowa over scholarship offers from FCS schools Northern Iowa, South Dakota and Eastern Illinois.
The 6-2, 232-pounder, who made nine tackles mostly on special teams this season, isn't sweating a scholarship."I'm not worried about that right now at all," he said. "I just want to help this team win."