IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa opened camp in August deep at fullback. The pool dried up quickly.
Starter Adam Cox suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the month. Back-up Macon Plewa has missed the last two games with an undisclosed illness and was ruled out for Saturday's game at Purdue (11 a.m., BTN).
After Cox was sidelined, the coaches looked for answers behind Plewa by trying linebackers Drake Kulick, Steve Manders and Aaron Mends at blocking back. Those experiments failed to take, at least as quickly as they needed to.
The Hawkeye staff turned to redshirt freshman linebacker John Kenny. He last played offense in middle school, he said.
"Fullbacks got dinged up so it was whatever I could do to help the team win," the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder said. "(Linebacker) Coach (Jim) Reid called me in and told me that the best opportunity to see the field right now was at fullback."
Kenny has taken all of the team's reps there during the last two games. This week, he was the only fullback listed on the depth chart.
"That's a good story, too," Head Coach Kirk Ferentz. "We had a real good feel for that we had there with Adam and Macon and now we're down two in that count. John's really not perfect, but he's really adapted to it pretty quickly and really bailed us out and given us an ability to keep a personnel group out there that there are a couple personnel groups we think are important. He's done a really good job, and doing a good job on special teams, too."
Kenny helped pave the way for Iowa's running game to show some life in last weekend's 24-20 upset win at Pitt. He added a catch for five yards.
"I just went over there and learned by assignments," Kenny said. "Macon and everyone helped out a lot. It was pretty difficult at first just lining up against the defense but playing defense I know what defenses do. It's been a lot of fun. It was challenging at first but I got the hang of it."
Rather than hang his head, Kenny jumped on the opportunity to get on the field. He carried things over to fullback what he learned from his time at linebacker.
"First and foremost, it's being physical and then just playing low. It's almost the same only you're trying to move someone out of the way where as at linebacker you're trying to move someone out of the way to make the tackle. You're trying to do the same thing but just on a different side of the ball," he said.
This week, Kenny heads home. He hails from Carmel, IN, which sits 70 miles southeast of West Lafayette, where Purdue is located. Four his his high school teammates, including starting linebacker Jimmy Herman, play for the Boilermakers.
"It will be a lot of fun," Kenny said. "I have some family going (to the game) and I have a bunch of friends that go to Purdue. It will be fun seeing (his former teammates) and playing against them."
Purdue offered a scholarship to Kenny when he was at Carmel High. He also reported opportunities from Arizona, Boise State, Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern, among others. They all saw him at linebacker, as did the Hawkeyes until injuries hit at fullback.
"Trial and error, I guess, and discussion," Ferentz said about moving Kenny to fullback despite him not playing offense since middle school. "Every now and then we get lucky and get one right, and we got that one right."
Iowa historically has succeeded in switching athletes' positions. Dallas Clark moving from linebacker to tight end was a memorable one and current starting cornerback Greg Mabin was a receiver two years ago.
Kenny looks comfortable at fullback but is uncertain if he's seen the last of linebacker. Cox is expected back next season and Plewa could return following the upcoming bye week.
"As of right now I am (at fullback) but next year, I don't know what the future holds. I'll have to ask the coaches, talk to the coaches after the season. But right now, fullback it is," Kenny said.