By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Sometimes, when I watch Josey Jewell play linebacker at an incredibly high level, I picture him doing it for his hometown school.
I picture him playing middle linebacker for Division III Luther, which is located in Jewell’s hometown of Decorah, and it’s sort of amusing because it almost happened.
Jewell’s story has been well-documented, how he likely was headed to either Luther or Northern Iowa on a partial scholarship until receiving a late scholarship offer from Iowa.
Jewell signed with Iowa in 2013 and the rest is history that still is being made each Saturday this fall.
Jewell already is one of the greatest linebackers to play under Kirk Ferentz at Iowa and he still has at least eight games to improve on his legacy, including Saturday’s matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich.
One can only image how dominant Jewell would’ve been as the middle linebacker for Luther, or for Northern Iowa for that matter.
Jewell's near-miss as a recruit shows why the NFL is filled with players from small, obscure schools.
Some future stars slip through the cracks because recruiting still is an inexact science and always will be. There is no way to guarantee success from one level to the next. The only hope is to increase the odds of it happening by recruiting the right players.
Of course, there are the so-called can’t-miss recruits like Iowa freshman defensive end A.J. Epenesa, but they are few and far between.
Jewell’s story is more typical for the Iowa football program where under-valued recruits have thrived under Ferentz.
What’s unusual about Jewell is the level of his success.
He is coming off a 16-tackle performance, which also included an interception, in last Saturday’s 21-19 loss to Penn State that earned him Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Weeks honors, along with several other weekly accolades.
Only a select few Hawkeye linebackers have matched Jewell’s level of performance and one was in town this past weekend.
Jewell’s story in many ways is similar to Chad Greenway’s rise as a Hawkeye linebacker over a decade ago.
Greenway served as the honorary captain for the Penn State game this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium and was added to the ANF Wall of Honor the day before.
It was Iowa’s way of saying thanks for a job well done.
Greenway also owes thanks to Iowa, namely Ferentz and assistant coach Reese Morgan, for believing in him when virtually every other major college didn’t feel he was worthy of a scholarship after playing nine-man football in South Dakota as a quarterback and defensive back.
Greenway’s work ethic and talent combined with Iowa’s vision, guidance and inspiration helped to produce a great player.
"I went to Iowa with an open mind and my only job was to work hard," Greenway said. "With that mentality at Iowa, if you have some ability on top of it, you can achieve anything."
It was the same with Jewell.
He also came to Iowa with an open mind, a willingness to work and study hard, and with more physical talent than most realized he had.
Talent comes in all forms. It isn’t just about who runs the fastest or jumps the highest or has the most strength.
Talent also includes being able to anticipate things and to react quickly and decisively. It means learning the fundamentals and applying them on the field.
It means studying your opposition and taking what you see on film and using it to your advantage on the field.
And it means being tough, fearless and durable.
Jewell is all of those things, as was Greenway.
“If you go back through the years, most of our older guys would tell you that's what they learned in time is just how valuable that is,” Ferentz said when asked Tuesday about Jewell’s ability to play fast. “But all that being said, some things in football are just some guys do things a little bit better and they see things, they see more than other guys.”
Ferentz then referred to former NFL All-Pro offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden and his uncanny ability to see things on film that most other players didn’t see. Ferentz coached Ogden with the Baltimore Ravens, and Ferentz believes that Jewell possesses many of the same qualities.
“I'll go back to when I was in the NFL, Jonathan Ogden was a freak player physically, but you've heard about running backs that can see everybody on defense,” Ferentz said. “I always felt like Ogden could. He could do things on film like how did he see that? How did he know to do that? So he had a vision like a great running back. I think some players just have that. You can improve that.
“Josey's had that knack and that inner drive. You can't measure at the combine those types of things. But there is something there. That's probably why we almost blew it in recruiting on him. We weren't seeing it. But when you get on the field with the guys, sometimes you just, boy, those guys he's going a little quicker than maybe he should be. So what is it about him that enables him to see that? And Josey's got that factor to him.”
When ranking the greatest linebackers under Ferentz, you could start with Greenway and his side kick, Abdul Hodge.
Greenway twice made second-team All-America in 2004 and 2005 and was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection. He then played 11 seasons in the NFL, all with Minnesota Vikings, before retiring after the 2016 season.
Hodge made first-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore and junior and second-team as a senior in 2005. He and Greenway started three seasons together, won two Big Ten titles and and played in four consecutive bowl games.
Bettendorf native Pat Angerer also deserves to be mentioned in this group, as do Fred Barr, James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens.
Angerer started slowly at Iowa, partly due to injuries, but he stayed the course and made first-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 2009.
Barr was in Ferentz’s first recruiting class in 1999. He came to Iowa from South Florida at a time when the program was hurting from a talent standpoint.
Barr took a leap of faith and then thrived as a hard-hitting, fast-talking middle linebacker, earning first-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 2002.
Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens formed a solid triumvirate at linebacker for two seasons, with Morris and Hitchens both earning second-team All-Big Ten in 2013.
Now back to the 6-foot-2, 236-pound Jewell, who is quick to share praise for his success.
He credits Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens for leading by example and for showing what it takes on a daily basis to excel at this level. They were seniors when Jewell was being redshirted as true freshman in 2013, and he watched them closely, on and off the field.
They showed Jewell what kind of work ethic is required to play big-time college football.
He learned early at Iowa that film study is a valuable part of game preparation.
“If you want to be able to move quick and not be thinking at all when you’re out there or maybe just think for a split second and then just go, you’re going to have to watch a lot of tape,” Jewell said. “You have to understand what kind of plays they can run in different situations, different formations. You have to watch quite a bit of film to not think that much.
“If you don’t watch a lot of film, you might be thinking a little bit more and you might be slower on your reads.”
In other words, you might not be maximizing your potential.
Jewell leaves nothing to doubt when preparing for an opponent.
His personality is more serious than the fun-loving Greenway, but each was raised on a farm where they learned the value of hard work and finishing what you started.
And, of course, how to play football at an exceptionally high level.