Bruce Nelson was talking about stoplights.
"We have two of them in my whole county,'' the Iowa center said. "Steiny probably has two stoplights at each end of his block.''
"Steiny'' is Eric Steinbach, the left guard who plays alongside Nelson in the Hawkeyes' standout offensive line.
The 6-7, 284-pound Steinbach is from New Lenox, Ill., and is on his way to becoming a first-team all-Big Ten player for the second straight season.
The 6-4, 290-pound Nelson is from Emmetsburg, Ia., and has started 44 consecutive games for the Hawkeyes.
By the way, both stoplights in Palo Alto County, Nelson said, are in Emmetsburg.
Although they grew up in far different environments, Nelson and Steinbach have the same goal—trying to help Iowa win a Big Ten football championship.
"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves every Saturday,'' said Nelson, "and I don't think it's going to change. We control our future.''
The next pressure, and the next exercise in controlling the future, comes tomorrow when Iowa tries to push its records to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the Big Ten in an 11:05 a.m. game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium.
Nelson was a standout player at Emmetsburg High School, and came to Iowa as an "invited walk-on'' when Hayden Fry was still the coach in 1998.
"There isn't a better place to grow up than Emmetsburg,'' he said. "There's a great high school football tradition there. It's a fabulous program. Kids dream about playing for the Hawkeyes there.
"I weighed my options when I was thinking about college. I received phone calls and letters from the Hawkeyes and other Division I schools, but when it came to signing day I wasn't able to get a scholarship. Lots of players from Emmetsburg have gone to places like South Dakota and South Dakota State, and I thought about that, too.
"Northern Iowa also was an option, but I wanted to see if I could play for the Hawkeyes. I figured that if it didn't work out I could transfer to a smaller school. I grew up wearing Hawkeye black-and-gold and didn't want to change when I went to college. Now, I'm still living the dream.''
Another small-town Iowan in the Hawkeyes' offensive line is 6-7, 300-pound tackle Robert Gallery of Masonville.
"We catch a lot of grief from the Chicago guys by being from small-town Iowa,'' Nelson said. "But we certainly can play with them, so we throw that back in their faces. Eric loves to brag about Chicago and how they have the best football, but I think he understands that football is football.
"We have a good time with it. That's what makes it so much fun to know each other. We've jelled being from different places.'' As you would expect, there are a number of different personalities among the linemen.
"Steiny is a pretty funny guy,'' Nelson said. "Ben Sobieski (a 6-5, 305-pound second-team guard from Mahtomedi, Minn.) is a funny guy, too. Robert (Gallery) likes to come off as being hard, but he's a big softy.''
Then Nelson quickly added, "Don't say that until I get out of here.''
Nelson said his parents, Richard and Ann Marie—who farm more than 1,000 acres--and some of his relatives have been traveling to games this season in a Winnebago RV.
"My parents got it just before our spring game,'' Nelson said, "and they've been having fun with it. They drove about 2,200 miles to the Penn State game, and the Michigan game last week was the second-longest trip.''
Nelson said his parents have attended every one of the 44 consecutive games he has started for Iowa. "Their streak is still alive, too,'' he said proudly.
On and Off the Heisman Map
Quarterback Brad Banks' success in Iowa's outstanding season hasn't gone completely unnoticed nationally.
Unfortunately, it's taken so long for the rest of the country to pick up on Banks' abilities that it will be next to impossible for him to make much of a dent in consideration for the Heisman Trophy
Banks is listed in a four-way tie for 10th on the ESPN.com Heisman Watch list, with quarterback Ken Dorsey of Miami the clear-cut favorite. Following Dorsey is quarterback Byron Leftwich of Marshall and Miami running back Willie McGahee of Miami.
Tied with Banks is Iowa State's Seneca Wallace, who had been an early favorite. Wallace has all but slipped off the Heisman map because of a poor performance two weeks ago against Oklahoma and the lack of success of the Cyclones in their road games against the Sooners and Texas. To make up the ground he has lost, Wallace would need to put up some big numbers in the rest of Iowa State's games, and the Cyclones would probably have to beat Missouri, Kansas State, Colorado and Connecticut
Banks, a senior, had a large number of reporters around him early this week in an interview session – and he was enjoying every minute of it.
"It's fun to get all this attention,'' he said. "I'm really enjoying it. I couldn't ask for more.''
Asked about the Heisman Trophy, Banks said, "It would be amazing for me. I'm going to continue to work hard.''
[Note to readers: Don't tell him he's not a Heisman candidate].
Asked what he feels goes into making a Heisman winner, Banks said, "Work ethic, consistency, character, small things.'' Banks was honored as the Big Ten's co-offensive player of the week after his outstanding performance in Iowa's victory at Michigan. It was the second time he received the honor. The other co-winner this week was Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger.
"The first time I won the award they sent me a certificate. Hopefully, I'll get another one, and I can put them up on my wall.'' Banks leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency. He has thrown 18 touchdown passes and been intercepted just four times. "I like those numbers,'' he said. "That shows that hard work pays off.'' Asked whether Banks' name has been mentioned often enough in connection with the Heisman Trophy, Ferentz said, "I haven't given it much thought. I led the campaign for Seneca Wallace after seeing him. He's an outstanding player, and I felt the same about Antwaan Randle-El of Indiana last year. "I haven't seen many players on the national level this year. I'll also say that I don't think anybody on our team would be willing to trade Brad for anyone in the country. Whether or not he's deserving of Heisman mention, I'm not qualified to say.''
Greving ‘Pretty Firm' In Decision to Quit
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz followed up on running back Aaron Greving's decision to quit Iowa's football team last week. "I talked to his parents by phone,'' Ferentz said, "and I think he's pretty firm in his decision. But we'll leave the door open. He's been a valuable team member. It's tough when players have injury problems.'' Greving began the season as the Hawkeyes' No. 1 running back, but injuries prevented him from being effective.
He'd Rather Eat Ice Cream
Ferentz was interviewed on ESPN at halftime of a recent collegiate game, and figured the national exposure was good for Iowa's recruiting. But being the laid-back guy he is, Ferentz indicated he didn't particularly like the national TV spotlight.
"Personally, I don't take a lot of satisfaction out of that stuff,'' he said. "I'd rather sit at home and eat ice cream or do something else.'' On the other hand, Ferentz said, "I am the head coach here. If there are opportunities to promote our program, I'll do it. The other night (his TV appearance), I'd just as soon gone home a little early, but that was a good opportunity to say things about our program on a national basis.
"I'm not totally dumb.''
Ferentz added that he realizes things could quickly go the other way.
"If we lose three straight, they'll be saying, ‘Who's that idiot coaching Iowa?''' he said with a laugh."
Ferentz Praises Carl Jackson
Carl Jackson, who coaches Iowa's running backs, is in his second term as a Hawkeye assistant.
Before returning to be on Ferentz's staff in 1999, Jackson was an assistant under Hayden Fry from 1979-91. Between his stints at Iowa, Jackson was on the staff of the San Francisco 49ers and Texas.
Ferentz made it clear what he thinks of Jackson.
"I've said many times that Carl Jackson is the finest running backs coach I've been with anyplace, and one of the finest human beings,'' Ferentz said. "He's a great teacher, and he's coached at all levels.
"He knows the right things to say at the right time, and he has great judgment. We're fortunate to have him on our staff.''
‘Where Are The Trees?'
Jermelle Lewis, who came off the bench to run for 114 yards last week against Michigan, was told that Iowa hasn't beaten Wisconsin for a while.
The Hawkeyes' last victory in the series was in 1996. And that was the last of 10 straight Iowa wins over Wisconsin.
"Well, it's a new year,'' Lewis said. "These are the 2002 Hawks.''
Lewis, a sophomore from Bloomfield, Conn., was talking about the first time he flew into Iowa.
Asked what he thought, Lewis said, "Where are the trees? There were no trees. I saw a whole bunch of cornfields, and I thought I was in the middle of nowhere.''
Brian Ferentz Has His Dad's (Slow) Speed
With Aaron Greving having quit the squad and leading rusher Fred Russell nursing a sore hand, Coach Kirk Ferentz was reviewing the running backs situation.
Suddenly, someone changed the subject and asked about Brian Ferentz – the coach's son – and the rest of the backup centers. Brian, a 6-2, 275-pound redshirt freshman, is finished for the season because of an injury, but is expected to figure prominently in the offensive line picture in the future.
"We weren't going to use him at running back anyway,'' said Kirk Ferentz, a master of dry humor. "He doesn't factor into things at all. He's like his old man – his speed is not too good. So that's a little bit of a problem (at running back).''
The Cousin Show
Brad Banks, who is from Belle Glade, Fla., said his parents – Vida and Charles Banks – have been able to watch a number of Iowa's games on TV this fall.
"Hopefully, they'll get a chance to make it up here for next week's game (the home finale against Northwestern),'' Banks said.
Banks is a cousin of Hawkeye wide receiver C. J. Jones of Boynton Beach, Fla. Both are seniors who came to Iowa out of junior colleges.
"When we were younger, I would see C. J. at family picnics and stuff like that,'' Banks said. "I'm glad the coaches here were interested in both of us. C. J. is my roommate, and it's good to have him here.''
Vol. 2, No. 94
Nov. 1, 2002
[Ron Maly's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org ]