By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – James Butler, though injured, is lucky in one respect.
His career as an Iowa running back isn’t over.
Butler’s injured elbow is expected to heal in time for him to return for the Oct. 21st game at Northwestern, according to what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in his Sunday conversation that was posted on Hawkeyesports.com.
It’s unfortunate that Butler will miss three of Iowa’s nine regular season games, including Saturday’s prime-time matchup against fourth-ranked Penn State at Kinnick Stadium, but his situation could be worse.
For one thing, Butler didn’t suffer a serious knee injury or a head-related injury.
Not to dismiss an elbow injury, but it’s the lesser of many evils when it comes to injuries.
My first season covering the Iowa beat in 1992 was impacted by a shoulder injury to starting quarterback Jim Hartlieb in the seventh game against Illinois. He never fully recovered and Iowa lost two of its final four games to finish 5-7 overall.
Iowa’s 1997 season also was affected by an injury to starting quarterback Matt Sherman. The Hawkeyes were 4-1 when Sherman broke the thumb on his right throwing hand near the end of the Michigan game, which Iowa lost 28-24 after leading 21-7 at halftime in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Sherman returned to play in the Sun Bowl, but the season already had unraveled by then. Iowa had a listless performance in the Sun Bowl, losing 17-7 to Arizona State to finish 7-5 overall.
The 1997 season is arguably one of the most disappointing in program history, considering offensive stars Tim Dwight and Tavian Banks were seniors on that team.
Sherman hardly was a star, but he was dependable and had the respect of his teammates and coaches. His loss caused the offense to bog down and the season to collapse.
The loss of junior linebacker Vernon Rollins was another critical blow to the 1997 squad. Rollins suffered what turned into a career-ending knee injury late in Iowa's 63-20 victory at Iowa State in the third game.
Former Iowa running back Jermelle Lewis also had his career cut short by a knee injury in 2004. Lewis finally was the featured running back after playing behind Fred Russell in the previous season. But Lewis’ time in the spotlight ended in the second Big Ten game against Michigan State when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Lewis never played for the Hawkeyes again.
Remarkably, the 2004 squad overcame his injury and some other injuries at running back to win a share of the Big Ten title and finish 10-2 overall.
But you still wonder what could’ve been if Lewis had stayed healthy. The Bloomfield, Conn., native was one of the most decorated players to sign with Iowa during the early years under Ferentz.
Lewis showcased his immense skills by rushing for over 700 yards during the 2002 season, and by excelling as a kick returner.
As for Butler, it’s just sad when a young man works so hard to achieve a certain goal, only to have it taken away by an injury.
Butler’s goal since high school was to play football for Iowa.
But he wasn’t offered a scholarship by Iowa in high school, so instead, Butler signed with Nevada and rushed for over 3,000 yards in three seasons with the Wolf Pack.
He could’ve stayed at Nevada and been the featured running back this season, but Butler chose to pursue the graduate transfer route at Iowa.
He and senior starter Akrum Wadley had formed a potent one-two punch at running back before Butler was injured.
Butler’s injury should mean more opportunities for freshmen running backs Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin, both of whom rushed for over 70 yards in the 31-14 victory over North Texas last Saturday.
Iowa already has two starters out for the season because of injuries, including free safety Brandon Snyder, who has been sidelined since April with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Junior Jake Gervase started at free safety in the first two games, but he has since been replaced on the depth chart by sophomore Amani Hooker.
Senior offensive lineman Ike Boettger suffered a season-ending achilles injury in the 44-41 overtime victory at Iowa State. So his college career is now over.
Injuries are a constant threat and one of the worst things about playing sports. Injuries don't discriminate and they happen with little to no warning.
At least with James Butler, he's down, but not out.