CEDAR FALLS — Marcus Weymiller is having a hard time accepting any credit for Northern Iowa’s resurgence from a 2-3 team in October to a 7-4 FCS playoff qualifier.
To Weymiller, any success a team experiences is the result of a collective effort.
“It was a team effort to bring the energy up,” Weymiller said. “One guy sparked it? I don’t know.
“We all bought in at the same time and we haven’t looked back.”
The numbers, however, show the junior running back from Waukon has played a key role.
When the Panthers were 2-3, they were averaging just 72 rushing yards per game. Then with UNI’s playoff hopes looking bleak on a windy, rainy day in Brookings, S.D., Weymiller was inserted into a starting role. He responded with 42 carries for 170 yards and two scores in a 38-18 win over then No. 7 South Dakota State.
Weymiller added three more 100-yard performances and the Panthers have averaged 142 rushing yards per game while closing the season 5-1.
Those numbers aren’t mind boggling, but they are important.
UNI’s offense became more balanced, allowing the Panthers to play the game the way they wanted with ball control, controlling the clock and not putting their stout defense in tough situations.
Weymiller also brought something else to the table for UNI — toughness. His helmet looks like that of a middle linebacker with all the scrapes and scratches on its crown, the result of his fearless running style.
“The demeanor he brings to our team ...” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “He just plays so hard. He is not the fastest guy out here, but he is one of the toughest out here and he runs that way every down. When you do that, everybody around you becomes that way mentally, as well.”
Again, Weymiller deflects credit, saying he isn’t the only tough guy on the Panthers’ roster.
“It is kind of rising up to the duty and the responsibility called upon us of being a Panther,” Weymiller said of his running style. “I think that is one of the traits of being a Panther and that is being tough. I think we all embody that.”
There might be another reason why Weymiller, whose play down the stretch may garner him enough votes to earn all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors, runs so hard ... he has a chip on his shoulder.
The 5-foot-10, 197-pounder rushed for 3,492 yards his final two seasons at Waukon, leading the Indians to a state runner-up finish in 2013. But at the conclusion of his prep career, Weymiller had exactly one offer from a Division II school.
“I would say I was a little under-recruited my senior year,” Weymiller recalled. “One Division II offer. Then Coach Farley contacted me and they really wanted me to come here as a preferred walk-on. There were a few other schools that were interested, but UNI definitely wanted me the most. There were a few other programs at this level and higher that said no, and that has contributed to a chip on my shoulder.
“That is the same for everybody here, everybody has a story but it is part of my story. I’m just trying to grind it out and produce for the people that believe in me.”
Weymiller’s emergence isn’t quite a surprise to UNI’s staff.
He saw action in all 14 games in 2015 at receiver, and while injuries limited him to nine games last season, he broke out with a 173-yard rushing game at Indiana State when UNI’s offensive staff inserted him into the backfield and had him run out of the Wildcat formation.
That was a role he was expected early this season, but he suffered a foot injury in the first half of game two against Cal Poly and was limited the next three weeks.
But there is one former UNI walk-on from Waukon that is happy another walk-on from Waukon is healthy and now excelling.
“I don’t care where he is from, as long as he is on our team we are in good shape,” laughed Farley.