Mike Elgin: Brains & Brawn

Iowa guard Mike Elgin looks very little like the 200-pound kid that showed up from Western Dubuque High four years ago. He is another example Chris Doyle's magic. Off of the field, the junior is working towards a degree in mechanical engineering and comes from a family of academics. Read more about this unique blend of athlete and student in this HN.com Premium Full-Length Feature.

Mike Elgin stood outside the Hayden Fry Football Complex on Tuesday wearing an appropriate T-shirt. It read "Iowa Strength and Conditioning."

The offensive lineman serves as a poster child for the much lauded portion of the Hawkeye that has contributed heavily to its resurgence. His story ranks up with the best of them when reviewing projects of transformation performed by Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle.

Elgin arrived at Iowa as a 200-pound linebacker. He recently weighed in at 277, and finally took notice of the difference in his physique.

"It was over time working up in the weight room with Coach Doyle with nutritional analysis," said Elgin, who looks solid, not like he bulked up on Big Macs.

"Looking back at it, it seems wild. But at the time, it was just going to work every day. One day, you weigh in, and you're 220. The next day you weigh in, and you're 223. You don't notice until you look back and see the drastic change over time. It's been fun."

Elgin returns as one of three starting offensive linemen along with Brian Ferentz and Mike Jones. The first two are switching positions with each other, with Ferentz going to center and Elgin sliding out to right guard. Jones also moved from right to left tackle.

"It's just one less thing to do, (in not) snapping the ball," Elgin said. "It's been an easy transition."

Like many of the players that have thrived during the Era of Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, Elgin projects a pretty unassuming personality. His disposition compares favorably to former Hawkeye Bruce Nelson. Neither player really feels comfortable in the spotlight or talking about himself.

When asked if he misses playing center, Elgin answered in a courteous, professional manner:

"There's not much time to be out there thinking about that stuff," he said. "I think that most guys here just want to be out on the field playing. To be out on the field playing is a great opportunity. It's a great thing. I'm just glad to be out on the field and playing with such great guys around me."

Elgin, a 6-foot-4 junior, grew up in Bankston, Iowa and attended Western Dubuque High School, leading the team to the Class 3-A state title in 2001. As a linebacker, he recorded 300 career tackles, which included 188 as a senior. He once racked up 28 stops in a game.

The Des Moines Register chose Elgin for its Elite All-State Team after his final season. He also participated in track and basketball, which also won the state title in '01.

Iowa recruited Elgin as a linebacker, a position he jokingly said he played for "about two weeks" after joining the program. The coaches moved him to the defensive line, where he stayed during his redshirt freshman season. After the Orange Bowl following that campaign, they switched his position again, this time to center.

"I was just like, "If that can help us win, then I'll try it,"" Elgin recalled. "I just wanted to be out on the field, play and win."

Elgin started all 12 games at center last year. But in the spring, the coaches came knocking on his door again, this time about a move to guard. Once again, he deferred to the coaches as knowing what was best for him and the team. He didn't even ask why.

"I have no idea," he said of the move. "You'll have to ask the Big Guy about that."

Iowa's offensive line is willing to do anything to wipe out the memory of finishing second to last (116) in the country in rushing last season. The attack was hampered mightily by season ending injuries to the top three tailbacks and the fourth teamer also missing much of the year.

"It's kind of been a thing for us in the offseason," Elgin said. "We were really disappointed with our running offense last season. That's something that we really need to work on; we really need to improve on this year."

The Hawkeyes enter this Saturday's season opener against Ball State (11:10 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium) with four guys listed at running back on their two-deep. Albert Young and Marcus Schnoor are co-No.1s with Marques Simmons and Sam Brownlee sharing the No. 2 spot.

It makes no difference to Elgin who gets the nod.

"Last year we went through, I think, five running backs," he said. "I was equally comfortable with every guy back there. Sam Brownlee ran his ass off last year.

"Whoever is in the backfield is going to run the ball as hard as they can and give their all. So, whoever is running ball, I'm sure they deserve that spot."

Elgin always seems to say the right thing when talking with the media. He understands that part of the game, too. His intelligence level soars over most, if not all, of the journalists, so he's not about to get trapped into saying something that can become bulletin board material or upsetting to anyone on his own team.

Elgin is studying mechanical engineering at Iowa. He says that his grades are "decent, but not quite perfect." Coach Ferentz jokingly admits he is, at times, intellectually overwhelmed by his right guard

"Coach Ferentz always stresses student-athlete, and for me, that's how I look at things," Elgin said. "Coming up with a strong academic background with my parents, it's always been a priority for me."

Strong academic background might be an understatement.

His father, Daniel Elgin, earned a masters degree in counseling and taught at Western Dubuque. Grace Elgin, Mike's mother, was the valedictorian of her high school class. Mike's brother is finishing up a doctorate degree in human factors research, and his sister earned a master's degree.

I wouldn't say there was pressure (to do well academically)," Mike Elgin said. "You just wanted to do your best for my parents because they stressed education. So, I stressed it myself, too."

Dealing with the time commitment required for football and an engineering major at a Big Ten university comes with stresses. Elgin sometimes sacrifices sleep in order to fit in his responsibilities, occasionally getting only three to four hours of shut-eye in a night.

"Sometimes I wonder how I'm going to have enough time to do everything," he said. "You just have to work hard and manage your time wisely. I found out that I can do it."

Elgin credits the Iowa staff with helping him to maintain a difficult schedule. He also appreciates the help on the academic side.

"I've also had great friends in the engineering program," Elgin said. "It's been a really enjoyable experience. There haven't been many hardships at all."

Elgin is leaning towards a potential job with John Deere in the future, but is leaving his options open.

First, he wants to help his team enjoy another special season. And there seems to be little doubt that he puts the program ahead of himself.

"I never thought about my expectations before I came here," Elgin said. "I just came in here to work and earn a spot on the field somewhere. My first spot on the field was at center, so I just took that opportunity and made the best of it. Now, I'm at right guard, and I plan on doing the same thing."

And if he keeps working has hard, maybe he'll get a shot at playing professional football. You have to figure the guy will perform pretty well on the Wonderlic IQ Test.

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