Grant Steen looks the part. Stubble covers his face. Grass stains color his practice jersey. A barbed-wire tatoo wraps around his right biceps. He is 100 percent linebacker.
On this day, Steen exits Kinnick Stadium after joining his defensive teammates in a summer school program. The lesson is to teach an inexperienced offense how to hold up under Big Ten pressure.
Steen sees progress.
"From the first practice until scrimmaging (last Friday), they're a hell of a lot better," he said. "Their pads are low and they're coming out and hitting people in the mouth. That's good to see. That's going to make us better and it's going to make them better. Anytime there's that feistiness on both sides of the ball, it's going to be a fun season."
The 6-foot-3, 237-pound Steen should know what it takes to have a fun season. The Emmetsburg native returns for his senior having played a big role in Iowa's 2002 conference championship.
Steen recorded 57 tackles (five for loss), a sack, four quarterback hurries and four pass breakups. He set school record for interceptions in a game when he picked off three passes in a 24-8 win at Indiana.
"I told everybody that I'm trying to spread them out and not save them all for one game this year," Steen said. "It would be nice to make some key plays in every game. That's how I'm approaching that."
In addition to contributing consistency, Steen will be expected to mentor inexperienced starters at the other two linebacker positions. Middle man Abdul Hodge (6-2, 232) and outside backer Chad Greenway (6-4, 236), both sophomores, enter the season with 53 career tackles between them. Their next start will be their first one at Iowa.
"I have to be a little more vocal at times," Steen said. "I'm more of a show-it and let-people-see-it leader. You just have to realize everybody respects your voice. If there is something on your mind that you think needs to be said, then go ahead and say it."
Iowa should boast its fastest linebacker corp in recent memory.
"We have a lot more coverage ability," Steen said. "We have a little more range than in years past. We only lose one guy. Fred (Barr) was great a great run stuffer. But there were times that he might have gotten beat down the middle more than what we wanted to. Hopefully this year, we can learn from our mistakes from last year and be a solid group again."
Steen spent much of his offseason increasing his speed and quickness. He hoped to add to the Hawkeyes' desire to be more versatile on defense.
"I worked on coverage," Steen said. "We want to be able to go man coverage and put a lot of pressure on people instead of just playing a regular zone and making plays that way. I worked a lot on footwork and quick hands and stuff like that. Anytime you can be quicker, it's better."
Iowa has struggled at times against offenses that run underneath crossing routes. Purdue has given the Hawkeyes fits with that approach.
Steen said that his weight has remained stable since his initial bulking-up process under Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle. He has bounced between 237-242 pounds during the last three years.
As far as speed, Steen is not sure how fast he is in 40-yard dash, as he has not run it since last season. And he really is uninterested in his time.
"I just feel like I'm playing faster," Steen said. "That's how I judge it. I don't look at times. That stuff gets overrated. As long as you're out there making more plays and are in better position every time, that's how I judge."
Steen feels that his training under the Iowa coaching staff has put him in position for a professional football career. That would have been tough to imagine when he walked on the team after leading Emmetsburg to a 33-2 record during his final three seasons.
Colleges were not falling over each other to land Steen. They looked past the technical soundess learned by the young linebacker from his father Tom Steen, an assistant coach with the E-Hawks.
"It puts a chip on your shoulder," Grant said. "It's always going to be there. Every time you play a team, you want to prove them wrong and say, "You know, you missed out on me." We have a lot of guys on our team in the same position. Me and Bob (Sanders) and (Robert) Gallery weren't highly recruited. Our mentality as a team is to prove everybody wrong and make them feel sorry for missing out on us."
A host of colleges also missed out on former Emmetsburg tight end Bruce Nelson, who went on to have an all-American career as an offensive lineman at Iowa. The Carolina Panthers tabbed Nelson with their second-round draft pick last April.
Steen talks to Nelson a lot. He also speaks with Arizona Cardinals linebacker Levar Woods about twice a week.
Woods went undrafted after finishing up his Iowa career. His teammate and former Hawkeye walk-on Kevin Kasper was been released by two teams. He sparked a dormant Cardinals' offense towards the end of last season.
"Iowa guys haven't been notorious for being first-round picks and stuff like that," Steen said. "That shows that guys from here had to earn it. You look at guys like Kasper and LeVar Woods, who have fought and scratched and clawed to do whatever they can to make it into the league. It's good for the guys still here to have that mentality. Hopefully it will pay off in the long run."
Many of the old Hawkeyes return to Iowa City to train during the offseason. They encourage the current Iowa players to believe in their dreams.
"Every time guys are back in the summer, they're pumping you up and telling you what you need to do," Steen said. "That's great. That's what the Hawkeye family is all about."
The former Hawkeyes have expressed to Steen that an intense work ethic leads to success in the NFL.
"It just makes you want to look at your film and realize that every play is on film," Steen said. "You don't want to look bad ever, especially your senior season. Scouts are going to look at every single play. You can't take plays off and you've got to be hustling and getting to the ball every play."
Steen rubs his stubble and holds each of his biceps, arms folded across is barreled chest. Yeah, he looks the part. More importantly, perhaps, he understands it.