Iowa keeps finding ways to counter 'curse'

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
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Perhaps we've been looking at this Iowa running back "curse" thing all wrong.

It's true that the long list of calamities that have befallen Hawkeyes players at that position zoomed past the point of absurd a while ago (for a refresher, click here). AIRHBG, a term first coined by fan blog Black Heart Gold Pants that stands for Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, has become such an accepted acronym that it now has its own web page, Twitter account and entry in the Urban Dictionary.

Superstitious types would be wise not to get on an elevator or cross a rickety bridge with the current starting Iowa tailback. Yet how can a position truly be cursed when the Hawkeyes keep finding ways to succeed there despite ridiculous obstacles?

So Adam Robinson gets kicked off the team in 2010. Freshman Marcus Coker steps in and rumbles for 219 yards in a bowl game. So Coker leaves the team after last season, and other options are sidelined in the offseason. Little-used Damon Bullock steps in and runs for 150 yards and the game-winning score against Northern Illinois in the opener.

[+] EnlargeIowa's Mark Weisman
David Purdy/US PRESSWIREWalk-on fullback Mark Weisman rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns against Northern Iowa.
So Bullock suffers a concussion in the first half last week against Northern Iowa, while backup Greg Garmon hurts his elbow. Well, this one really gets crazy. Iowa turns to walk-on fullback Mark Weisman, and he responds with 24 carries for 113 yards and three touchdowns.

The question isn't really why the running backs are cursed in Iowa City. It's more like, how do the Hawkeyes keep finding these guys?

"First of all, you have to give credit to the players; they're the ones doing all the work," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That part is where it all starts. Then [running backs coach] Lester [Erb] has done a great job with our backs in coaching and instructing them. So that's a credit to him."

Iowa would like to take credit for Weisman, but he all but fell into their laps from the sky. Or the Air Force, to be more precise.

The Buffalo Grove, Ill., product was very lightly recruited out of high school and primarily as a blocking fullback. But he still wanted to carry the ball, so that's why he decided to play at Air Force.

"They run the fullback a lot, and not many schools do that any more," he told reporters this week.

But Weisman wasn't quite prepared for the other differences at Air Force.

"He was tired of having guys bounce quarters off his bed," Ferentz said. "I don't know if just a story or a legend now at this point, but he got tired of sleeping on the floor. He figured out if he made his bed perfectly one time, he wouldn't have to go through that aggravation again if he slept on the floor."

Weisman left Air Force after just one semester and decided to walk-on at Iowa -- "I knew the tradition here," he said this week, apparently not in reference to AIRBHG.

Ironically, though, he picked a program that didn't run the fullback much. Ferentz said that his fullbacks have traditionally been "frustrated middle linebackers" or "a glorified guard position, really." The coaches didn't pay too close attention to Weisman last year as he sat out under NCAA transfer rules, but Ferentz said he stood out during spring practice this year and then had "an exceptional" August.

Still, the staff didn't start looking at Weisman as a main ball carrier until last week in practice. Then he became the main guy when Bullock and Garmon went down, a 6-foot, 225-pound wrecking ball that teammates have jokingly nicknamed "Juggernaut."

"Mark's kind of, hit the hole, and he's not really going to try to make a move," center James Ferentz told reporters. "He's going to try to run over guys."

With Garmon questionable and Bullock doubtful this week, Weisman should get his first start at running back. Backing him up is another walk-on, true freshman Michael Malloy, with junior fullback Brad Rogers behind them. Jordan Canzeri, who suffered a torn ACL this spring, but has been medically cleared to resume playing, may or not be ready yet.

Can Weisman keep this up?

"Would he be our go-to guy, our predominant back? I don't know," Ferentz said. "Only time will tell. But I think certainly he showed that he can do some things out there competitively and he brings a different tempo running the football, than everybody else. ... We are hardly out of the woods yet."

No one can ever feel too safe about the status of Iowa's running backs. But given how the Hawkeyes keep filling the position successfully, perhaps we should start considering it blessed, not cursed.

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