The Understudy: Paschal Ready for his Turn

There are several members of the 2004 Iowa football team who have the challenge of replacing modern day legends this year; Lee Gray (Robert Gallery), Kyle Schlicher (Nate Kaeding) and Marcus Paschal (Bob Sanders). Each task is a tall order, but perhaps no Hawkeye player in recent memory has encapsulated the heart and soul of the football program the way that Sanders' did for Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes. Paschal admits he is no Bob Sanders, but he feels like he has something to offer...

The pressure of replacing an Iowa icon might crush many a man.

Marcus Paschal welcomes the challenge.

"I don't really look at it as big shoes to fill," the Largo, Fla. native said. "(Bob Sanders) did a lot of special things on the field which I'm not going to downplay.

"But Bob's gone. Now, there's a new person that's going to have to step in. If it's me or Miguel (Merrick) or anybody, whoever goes out there is going play their game."

The 6-foot, 196-pound Paschal apprenticed for two years under Sanders, who started for most of his four college seasons at strong safety before being selected in the second round of April's NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, on numerous occasions, credited Sanders with changing the way the Hawkeyes played football. The Erie Assassin led by his hard-hitting actions and it became contagious.

"I'm really ready," Paschal said. "Everybody has got to wait his turn. I redshirted. I sat behind Bob for two years, watched and learned a lot. Now, it's my turn to get out there and hopefully make things happen."

Paschal shares with Sanders a high confidence level and desire to hit people hard. The two are physically opposite, however.

Sanders packs over 200 pounds into a 5-8 frame. Paschal looks every bit of the 6-0 at which he is listed in the Hawkeye media guide with room to comfortably get to 210-220 pounds.

"We're similar in ways," Paschal said. "In other ways, we're different. Me and Bob both have the intensity on the field. Big hits; I think that I can bring that.

"I think that I'm just an all-around safety. I can do all of it. I don't really consider myself just a big hitter or things of that sort."

Paschal was named first-team all-conference, all-Sun Coast and all-county as a senior, when he earned Largo High MVP honors after leading the team to an 8-3 record and a district championship.

As a quarterback, Paschal rolled up 959 rushing yards (7.2 per carry) and seven touchdowns to go with 1,724 passing yards and 10 scores. He added 61 tackles and eight interceptions as a defensive back.

The Iowa coaches inserted Paschal at cornerback at times last season. That illustrated his coverage skills, an area at which he appears to be ahead of Sanders at the same point in their careers.

"I'm comfortable right now with my pass coverage skills," Paschal said. "At the end of last year, I went in and played corner. That helped me out a lot like in one-on-ones. I feel like I can go out there right now and cover one of the best receivers if I had to."

Paschal feels fortunate to have learned for two years under one of the most popular Hawkeye players in recent memory. Sanders taught through action.

"I learned the little things, like how to practice; like how to watch film and being prepared," Paschal said. "Sitting back and watching how he studied I realized that it was the small things that count. People see how he plays on a Saturday, but you don't see what he does before that in preparation."

Paschal admits that he still has a lot to learn. He looks to veteran strong safety Sean Considine for guidance now that Sanders is off to the NFL.

"Sean is the general out there," Paschal said.. "I know all of my calls, but Sean is like the big man out there. I always know that I've got somebody to lean on.

"We're out there together, and we're going to do our thing."

Hawkeye fans hope their thing produces the kind of excitement that would make Sanders proud.

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