BY ROD PAYNE
MANKATO, Minn. — Like a proud father, Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Kirk Ferentz, watches as the young men that were under his charge as football players now venture into the real world.
Whether a business career, life in the National Football League, or beginning their own families, Ferentz knows these young adults will be successful.
“Any coach feels good when they see their players move into the next stage of their lives and become young responsible adults,” Ferentz said. “Certainly we encourage discipline big time and work on their management skills. We try to share these messages with them every day, and coach Chris Doyle and his strength staff work and interact with the players almost year round.
“We are not in the NFL down here, but we might as well be,” added Ferentz. “With the attention we get, we try to teach the guys how to present themselves and we encourage them on doing the right things.
“Some of these guys have the opportunity to go to a pro camp,” Ferentz said. “They have a high level of dedication to the sport, and it is nice to see them succeed at that level.”
As the 2013 season opens up with training camps in full swing, ex-Hawkeye and future pros are dominating the league, with 18 members putting on the pads this season alone. There have been 48 Hawks that have left Ferentz’s nest and made professional rosters.
Currently there are four ex-Iowa players, Chad Greenway, Christian Ballard, Seth Olsen and James Vandenberg on the Vikings roster, as they begin the rigors of a pro camp.
Leading the group is Greenway who enters his eighth year in the pros, all with the Vikings, and has been nominated to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons.
“I remember when we were in a bowl game in 2001,” Ferentz said, referring to the Hawks 19-16 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas Tech. “I saw Chad in our locker room after the game and he was just carrying on slapping guys on the shoulder pads and yelling like he just played in the game. I knew then he was a team player before he even put on our uniform.”
Since Greenway has put the purple jersey on, he has more than proven to be a team player, leading the team in tackles last season.
“I appreciate coach Ferentz and the whole Iowa program,” Greenway said. “Their approach to the game has helped me tremendously,” the Mount Vernon, S.D. native said. “They have helped me in the mind set of being where you are and doing your best, and not think that the grass is greener on the other side. This is my job and I want to be a leader not just on the field but off as well.”
Greenway has won over his teammates with his work ethic and attitude when they voted him as the Ed Block Courage Award recipient. An award that goes out to a team member that is a role model of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage. On the field, Greenway is relentless in the pursuit of making the newest members become successful.
“This year is a little different in the fact that last years rookies have held on and stepped up, and made contributions already,” said Greenway. “Now we hope the template continues this season as we continuously stock the shelves with talent.”
The Vikings’ rise to the playoffs in 2012 was not a surprise to Greenway as he already believed this squad was stacked with the right athletes.
“I think 3-13 was a bit more surprising than last season,” added Greenway, referring to the 2011 debacle.
A beneficiary of Greenway’s aggressive style of play has been defensive end Jared Allen.
Allen, an avid hunter, came to the Vikings in 2008 and never gave up his hunting skills, as he has tracked down and sacked 74 quarterbacks as a Viking. A total of 117 in his career, which began in Kansas City.
“I love what Chad brings to the table,” Allen said. “He is an elite player that you can count on.
“Us guys up front can take more calculated risks knowing he is back there,” added Allen. “He is a force and I am excited to have him behind the line,” added the 10-year veteran. “He helps others as well, and he has proven to be a good leader.”
Another ex-Hawkeye that can benefit from watching Greenway, is third year man Christian Ballard who was drafted in the fourth round during the 2011 selection.
“Christian can learn a lot from guys like Kevin Williams up front,” Allen said. “He is part of a good young talented bunch that can only benefit from listening to the veterans and taking in what is said.”
Ballard was making waves on the defensive front toward the end of the 2012 campaign, and faces a new battle this year at camp.
“Everybody gets pushed by the next guy in training camp,” Ballard said. “This year we have more talent and I have to focus more on my technique and get better,” Ballard added. “I mean you look at these guys like Allen, Williams, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and Letroy Guion, man that is a lot of great talent to learn from.
“I love hitting people and I want to be on that first team,” continued Ballard. “To do that I need to watch guys like Greenway and learn, He is a great leader and practices so hard. His work ethic is unquestionable. If I have to play special teams to stay here, I will, but I would rather be in those trenches, hitting people and making it happen.”
That attitude is exactly what coach Ferentz knew would exude from the big 6-foot-4, 283-pound tackle.
“I was very impressed with Christian’s athleticism,” Ferentz said. “I saw some film on him from the Vikings and to see a man that size getting down the field like that was amazing.”
“We have had a lot of good players play at Iowa and we feel they are better prepared to be good husbands, good fathers and good members of their respective communities.” Ferentz said. “I am proud of all their accomplishments and want to wish them well.”