Iowa Hawkeye Football: The Long, Lonesome Running Back Blues

David Fidler Correspondent IJune 6, 2011

IOWA CITY, IA - OCTOBER 30- Running back Marcus Coker #34 of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes is tripped up by safety's Trenton Robinson #39 and Marcus Hyde #11 of the Michigan State Spartans during the second half of play at Kinnick Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 37-6 over Michigan State. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
David Purdy/Getty Images

Recently, Iowa got the bad news that their prized running back recruit, Rodney Coe, did not make grades and will have to go to junior college in order to eventually qualify to play for the Hawkeyes or any FBS football team.

Personally, I see him as a defensive end, but many finer minds than me feel that he will or would have carried the rock.

We won't know any which way for at least two years, as that is how long he will have to remain in JUCO before transferring to wherever he winds up.

If he had gone the prep school route, he could have transferred after one year, provided he got his grades up. That was the direction taken by former Hawk running backs Fred Russell and Shonn Greene.

Regardless, it is just one more story in the twisted mess that has befallen almost all Iowa scholarship running backs throughout much of the Kirk Ferentz era.

Sometimes it is self-inflicted. Sometimes, it is a random stroke of bad luck. Sometimes, it seems that the player in question would rather start for a dinky JUCO than start for a Big Ten school.

People really began to take notice of it in 2004, when Iowa lost their top four tailbacks to leg injuries. The top three suffered torn ACL's and missed the majority of the season. The fourth had a high ankle sprain, which caused him to miss final six regular season games. 

However, when one looks at the Hawkeyes' scholarship tailbacks over the years, it is perplexing.

Since 2001, Iowa has had 24 tailbacks. This number includes all scholarship backs, as well as walk-ons that have seen significant minutes at the tailback position. It does not include fullbacks, except for Brad Rogers, who played at the tailback position in 2010. It also doesn't include De'Andre Johnson, who was a freshman last year but redshirted.

The 24 are: Fred Russell, Aaron Greving, Marcus Schnoor, Jermelle Lewis, Ladell Betts, A.J. Johnson, Sam Brownlee, Marques Simmons, Damien Simms, Albert Young, Kalvin Bailey, Dana Brown, Shonn Greene, Corey Robertson, Jevon Pugh, Paki O'Meara, Jeff Brinson, Nate Guillory, Jewel Hampton, Brandon Wegher, Jason White, Adam Robinson, Marcus Coker and Brad Rogers.

Of those 24 backs, only six have finished their senior years (I'm only speaking athletically. Academically, many of them have gone on to do well).

Those six are: Betts, Brownlee, Schnoor, Simmons, Simms and Young. And both Schnoor and Young missed at least one full year with an ACL tear.

It should be noted that Jason White, Marcus Coker and Brad Rogers are still on the team, and, as far as I know, are doing fine, though Rogers is currently on the shelf with a heart ailment.

Of the other backs, both Freddy Russell and Shonn Greene turned pro with eligibility remaining.

Greving, Lewis and O'Meara had their careers and/or senior seasons abbreviated due to injuries.

Johnson, Brown and Robinson were dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.

Bailey and Robertson were dismissed for academic reasons.

Guillory was a JUCO transfer that never saw the field. He left shortly after spring practice as soon as he realized he had little-to-no chance of seeing significant playing time (i.e. after Shonn Greene re-arrived). 

Wegher left for reasons unknown.

Hampton and Iowa came to a mutually agreed upon parting of the ways.

Brinson reputedly was homesick, as was Jevon Pugh, though Pugh is an interesting case.

He was due to be a true sophomore in 2008, with Iowa having just graduated Albert Young and Damien Simms. At that time, Shonn Greene wasn't in the picture. The coaches seemed to have confidence in Pugh and it looked like he was a lock to start in 2008.

However, he preferred to go back home to Florida. I have no idea if he ever caught on with another school or what became of him. Still, starting tailback for a Big Ten team or go home and catch the start of hurricane season?

And here we are.

Iowa has not graduated a scholarship tailback since Albert Young and Damien Simms in 2007. Paki O'Meara graduated last year and finished his collegiate career on scholarship, but he began as a walk-on.

The only two scholarship backs currently on campus are Marcus Coker and De'Andre Johnson.

As previously noted, Johnson redshirted in his first year on campus. He was coming off an ACL tear before his senior year of high school. In recent interviews, Kirk Ferentz has noted that last year, Johnson wasn't quite ready to play. But he is ready now.

Coker is a true sophomore that burst onto the scene during last year's bowl game. He was impressive in earlier performances starting for an injured Adam Robinson. However, he whetted Hawkeye fans' appetites by winning the Insight Bowl MVP. He ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.

He will begin next year as the starter, though it remains to be seen who will spell him.

Along with Johnson, Iowa brought in four potential running backs in this year's class.

The first, and in my opinion, the most game-ready to play running back, is Mika'il McCall out of Illinois. The second is Jordan Canzeri out of Troy, New York. The third is Damon Bullock out of Texas. And the last is the aforementioned Rodney Coe.

And then there were three.

In the end, I don't know how Kirk Ferentz's staff could possibly prepare for the inexplicable plague that has consistently beset one particular position group.

Although the typical thinking is, "you can't have enough running backs," you also can't over-recruit and assume you're going to lose at least three out of every four players that sign.

As for us Hawkeye fans, it seems the only thing we can do is hope McCall, Canzeri and Bullock make it to campus. We can also hold our collective breath every time a defensive back tries to take Marcus Coker's legs out from under him.


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