IOWA CITY, Iowa – It seems every day there’s a story of an athlete gone bad. Some days, there’s more than one.
Domestic violence, driving under the influence or whatever the case may be, it’s often unsavory stuff. It makes a sports writer leery to heap praise on any jock for fear you’re backing a ogre.
We still do it, however, even though we can only get so close. One can’t be afraid to go with his gut if it tells him the subject is good. If it backfires, so be it.
There are not such worries applauding Jordan Canzeri. The Iowa running back produces on the field but conducts himself much more admirably off of it.
His running mate, LeShun Daniels, told a story here Tuesday that lent insight into Canzeri’s character. Against Maryland three weeks ago, Canzeri was out with an ankle injury. In the locker room, he told the other running backs he would be happy to hold their towels or get them more water or do whatever they needed him to do.
Perhaps most guys who ran for more than 250 yards in a game earlier that season would act that way. Somehow, I doubt it.
“Canzeri is the most selfless person I know,” Hawkeye Quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “He doesn’t care if he gets 300 yards or three yards as long as we’re winning. And it goes beyond the field.”
Canzeri has been know to spend time with sick kids at university hospitals and brings along teammates when he can. I’ve watched him engage a group of Kid Captains (children dealing with severe illness) like he’s a member of their family.
“That’s just his personality. He’s that type of guy. He’s probably one of the best guys I’ve been around,” Daniels said. “Just watching how he interacts with people, I have to strive to be like him. Maybe you’re not feeling like being around people but he takes pride in being nice and being that good type of guy.”
Saturday, Canzeri will play his final game at Kinnick Stadium. During the Senior Day ceremony before it, the inspiration for the life he leads will await him at midfield.
Regina and Brian Canzeri of Troy, N.Y. set a good example for their son. He credits them for the compliments he receives about being a good person.
Regina suffers from Lupus, a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body. It makes it difficult to travel so Saturday will be just the second of Jordan’s games she’s been able to attend this season.
While Jordan has fought through injuries throughout his Iowa career, including undergoing a major knee surgery, he draws off the toughness of his mother.
“She’s been a great role model for me because she’s gone through much, surgeries, everything since I was a kid until now taking extreme dosages of medicine. She’s always still so positive no matter whatever comes her way,” Jordan said.
The Canzeris lean heavily on their faith to help them through troubled times but also to just do the right thing every day. You don’t get the sense they have to. They want to.
“There’s not a more unselfish, giving type player,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t track the community service individually. I know he does a lot of different things. He’s involved in a lot of different areas. That’s kind of how he’s wired and that carries right over into the playing.”
Despite missing two games this fall with an ankle injury, Canzeri leads Iowa with 729 yards and nine rushing touchdowns on 146 carries, which includes a 256-yard output on 43 carries against Illinois. He’s also caught 18 passes for 196 and a score.
While the statistics are good, Canzeri’s presence contributes as much or more to the success of fifth-ranked and unbeaten Iowa, particularly the running game. The Hawkeyes’ ability to employ four players at his position without there being jealousy can be traced back to his leadership.
“They’ve got to be unselfish and they’ve got to be committed to the team and see the big picture. That’s easy to talk about like a lot of things that are integral to winning are easy to talk about. It starts with Jordan,” Ferentz said.
Canzeri (5-9, 192) praises his father, Brian, for being his sound board and support through the ups and downs as a high-level athlete. He drives his wife from Upstate New York to Iowa City when she feels up to it just like he juggled his work schedule to cart Jordan around to various games and practices throughout his life. If Regina can’t make it, he comes alone.
“Not to embarrass him, but he’s just a great dad,” Jordan said. “Just to have a guy like that for a role model just to do so much for me doing whatever he could to help me that’s what I’m going to carry over when I’m a father. I’m going to show that to my kids and hopefully they carry it on as well.”
Navigating the world is difficult. If everyone approached it like the Canzeris, paying it forward, if you will, it would be easier.
Daniels feels the impact Jordan has had on him. He’s motivated to make sure Saturday is a day his good friend will always remember.
“I can’t thank him enough for everything he has done. I just have to make sure that we’re prepared so we can make sure we can go out and get him a victory on Senior Day,” Daniels said.