Talking Spring Defense: Hodge, Johnson & Greenway

Abdul Hodge, Jovon Johnson and Chad Greenway have been on the field for Iowa for what seems an eternity. Yet all good things must come to an end, or at least that is how it works with eligibility in college football. Each player is participating in his final spring practice session and the 2005 season will be their last in Iowa City. Read their thoughts on the finality of this spring as well as what they are looking for come the fall...

ABDUL HODGE

How close were you to declaring for the NFL?
-- No, I did not consider it. It was a quick thought, and I could have actually graduated in May. But we have a lot to accomplish out here. So I came back set on doing that.

Did you and Chad talk about moving to the next level much - together?
-- No, not really. We talked and laughed about it, but it was never really considered. We knew that we were coming back before the season started, no matter what happened. We were 100% on that, regardless. People outside the program thought we considered the decision. We took it as a compliment and felt fortunate to be in the situation. A lot of athletes do not have that option, so we took it like that. It was a good thing and awards us for all the hard work we have put in here.

Does it feel good to get the pads back on and start knockin' some heads around?
-- Oh, definitely. Anytime you can come out and play football, that is why we are here. We came to college for this and have been working towards things in the offseason. It helps to do it with actual ‘live' hitting, too (giggles).

Are you all pretty much going forward with thoughts of January 1st out of sight and out of mind?
-- Everyone knows we have work to do. We lost a lot of people to graduation. We lost an offensive lineman, we lost our whole defensive line and part of out defensive backfield. We all start 0-0 and we are probably not going to be the underdogs we were in the past. As long as we stay humble and focused on good things, we should be alright.

How is the defensive line coming along?
-- They are coming along real well. We have got a lot of young guys there and they get better every day. They are learning and watching film.

How can you improve your game?
-- Just have to keep doing the little things. I need to know my alignments and the situations on the field. At the same time I am going to try and be a better leader on the field, too.

Has it been strange for you this spring not really working side by side with Greenway, he being injured?
-- It has been aggravating because he wants to be out there and hit people. But it is to his best interest to get 100 percent healthy before he comes back the field for this season.

Do you seeing anyone standing out on the defensive side of the ball?
-- We have a lot of young guys up front that are working hard. The d-backs are working hard as well, but we all have work to do in being better. We are making good strides.

Are you and Chad vocal leaders now (one reporter asked and said they were not really known as being too vocal)?
-- I think that is a misconception for anyone outside the program. When we get on the field it is all business, and linebackers have to lead. It is on this year.

JOVON JOHNSON

How does it feel to be back on the green grass and do a bit of slobber knocking?
-- It feels real good to be on the field. I hate sitting out and not playing. Once you learn to love the game and then you have to sit out for a while it starts to bother you. Even it is for 3 weeks, I do not care. I love being on this field as a Hawkeye football player.

Is there a different mindset for the returning players - meaning: do you have any unfinished business for the next season?
-- I feel like our veterans are going to have to lead this team. There are a lot of things to accomplish. I think it is a matter of not worrying about the respect the magazines are giving us and still play the underdog role.

Have you thought about the fact this is your last spring practice session?
-- Yes, it kind of has. I do try to keep those thoughts out of my head because I am getting old and all that. But, I still have some young tendencies.

Are there any of the newer or veteran players that are standing out to you this spring?
-- I think of the younger defensive backs are starting to learn the system and they are checking out and looking good. I think that is the biggest thing.

Have you taken any of younger guys under your wing?
-- When I see them make mistakes, I kind of push the thought to them that if they are making the mistake here, they will make it in the game. We need to get it out of our system now so that on Saturdays in Kinnick or wherever we do not want to compound things. And it is a lot faster pace during game situations. We have to practice at a higher tempo and limit those things. I have got Bradley Fletcher and Adam Shada to do some work with. Both of them are solid players and will do a great job when their time comes.

What are you looking for from the Hawkeyes this season?
-- I look forward to us continuing to have success like we have had the last couple of years. When you play in the Big Ten you have to strap the pads on tight and be ready to roll.

Can you allow the words ‘National Championship' to come out of your mouth?
-- I cannot say it right now, but in January I hope we can.

CHAD GREENWAY

What is the biggest difference between 9-man football and Big Ten football?
-- Are you serious? (everyone is laughing) Well, there are 2 more players and about 70,000 more people in the stands. This is just one of those things that gives people like you something to write about (again, laughs).

Did you seriously consider jumping to the NFL in the off season?
-- No, not at all. I did not feel like I was even close to being able to do that. I felt that there was too much more I needed to learn on the football field before playing in that league. I could not have left my friends on the team because we have a lot going for us here. I could not have put that much of a change or charge to the friendship or the team.

Did you and Abdul joke about all of the draft talk?
-- People think they know things, but they do not. I love to read stuff outside the program, it is actually quite funny. We had too much to come back to for that thought to ever cross our minds.

Was that decision at all influenced by the fact you have a good team returning?
-- Well, if 21 or 22 starters were going to be gone had we made our decision I am sure we both might have entertained calls and offers. I think it does help a lot of people coming back.

Did you read what Mel Kiper, Jr. was writing and saying - naming you as the #1 pass defending linebacker in the college ranks?
-- I think he was drawing us out, he was trying to call us out. That stuff is all good and great, but it all comes down to what we do on the field.

Have you been an LB for the full four years while you have been at Iowa?
-- (Joking) No, it is three and a half years. You really like math questions, don't you? I am learning stuff everyday. Coach Parker knows so much about the position and how to play at this level. He has forgotten more stuff about playing this position than I will ever know.

What is the hardest part about being injured (he is still feeling the effects of the hamstring injury he sustained during the 2004 season) and not being able to practice?
-- It is hard to some of the intricacies of the position while being on the sideline. I want to be out there and hitting people. I need to break nasty habits and try to learn new ways to excel on the field.

Are you excited about being named to the Playboy All-American team?
-- Well, it is exciting, of course. I do not really care much about that, to be honest, but it is nice to be recognized for once. It is exciting, but at the same time there is a lot of work to do. I was a bit shocked Abdul was not named to the team, also. He deserves to be there because he is just as good if not better than I am. It is an honor, but it is tough.

Has your girlfriend bothered you about the Playboy announcement?
-- She has not said too much, which is a good thing. She probably wants to go along with me to the photo shoot. (laughing)

Has Matt Roth given you any advice on what to expect when you go out there?
-- He gives me some advice but I cannot tell you what it is. I will probably not follow it either. You all know Roth, right? I could never follow what he says.

Has the thought of being in your final spring practice session settled in your mind yet?
-- We are down to the last four. It is unreal how fast this last 4.5 years has gone. The season goes so fast so I need to stop and take it in some. It is unbelievable to see where I came from to where I am now.

Which schools actually recruited you in high school?
-- Nebraska talked to me and wanted me to walk on. Iowa was the only big time school to offer me. And every time I came down here to visit they treated me like a king. The coaches were so nice and open to talk about football plays and alignments. This was always a dream, but nobody would ever think I would come here and do what we have done. Other than Iowa, the only schools to talk to me were South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming talked to me a little bit.


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