By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – If life after football goes as planned, Akrum Wadley will be asking for votes and James Butler will be on camera asking questions.
Iowa’s top two running backs still have two games left to be played in college, including Black Friday’s matchup with Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., and they both also hope to play in the NFL.
But at some point, either their bodies will say enough or the NFL will say enough, or that they don’t belong in the league in the first place.
Wadley and Butler know that day is coming and they both said Tuesday that they’ll be ready.
“After I’m finished with football, I want to come back and be a mayor,” Wadley said with a big grin on his face. “I want to run for mayor. I’m going to get in politics and run for mayor.”
Wadley wasn’t necessarily referring to Iowa City, although, he’d probably be a popular candidate because of his colorful personality and because of his success as an Iowa football player.
The Newark, N.J. native enters Friday’s game against Nebraska with 2,625 career rushing yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 games in which he has rushed for at least 100 yards.
“I might go back home,” Wadley said. “I might come to Iowa. I don’t know. I’m going to get into it. I think I can do it.”
Wadley didn’t really have an answer when asked what about politics intrigued him. He paused for a few seconds before saying:
“I don’t know. I just want to do it. I’m not going to get into that.”
Wadley has kept his political aspirations mostly to himself. He also doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the volatile political environment right now because his primary focus is football and academics.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t aware of Wadley’s desire to be a mayor, or that he was even interested in politics, until being told at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
“That's probably better than coaching, but that's probably a coin toss,” Ferentz said jokingly. “Bad jobs, politics or coaching.
“Coaching? I could see that. But politics? Wow.”
As for Butler, he plans to move back home near the Chicago area after the season ends to begin training for a chance to play in the NFL.
But if that doesn’t work out, Butler is well-equipped to move on without football. He transferred to Iowa as a graduate student after playing for three seasons at Nevada. He already has a degree in communications with a business minor and also has braces on his teeth, which is rare for somebody his age, but shows how determined Butler is to be successful after football.
“I really want to go into broadcasting,” Butler said Tuesday. “I kind of want to see what you guys are doing exactly on the other side of the camera.
“That’s why I got these braces to get my teeth right, so I’m camera ready.”
It’s easy to take for granted what a college athlete endures on daily basis just to stay afloat, especially those who compete at the highest level. Time is precious and can’t be wasted.
“The biggest thing, not physically, but mentally, is being able to handle school and football,” said junior center James Daniels. “I think for younger players, and personally for me, that was the hardest thing for me, balancing school and football.
“Because in school, they expect you to do the same amount of work as regular students, and then football takes out a huge chunk of your day, too.”
Daniels has been on the fast track since signing with Iowa. He graduated from high school in Ohio early and then enrolled at Iowa for the spring semester in 2015.
Daniels was among three players in the 2015 recruiting class who enrolled early, along with defensive end Brady Reiff and former offensive lineman Bret Waechter, who had to quit playing football for health reasons.
“That helped because all three of us, we didn’t know anything, Daniels said befoe bursting into laughter. “We did not know anything at all. It did help being with those two.”
There were advantages to enrolling early in that it allowed Daniels to get a head start on both football and academics. He then played as a true freshman and will make his 24th career start on Friday against Nebraska.
But it also came with many sacrifices, including his senior prom.
“Prom was on the same day as the spring game,” Daniels said. ‘It was the worst weekend. If it was on a different week, I would have gone back. But I couldn’t go back for that.”
Daniels will be in the same position a year from now that Butler and Wadley are in as seniors whose college careers are about to end.
Daniels also watched and learned from his older brother and former Iowa teammate, LeShun Daniels, about how to handle the demands of being a student-athlete.
“He said it’s not easy,” James Daniels said. “I was like alright, I’ll be cool.”
When asked what has been harder between football and academics, Daniels didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Academics, yeah,” he said. ”Because there are some nights when you have to study for a test, but you also have be up like at 5:45 or six in the morning.
“Football is temporary, but your (grade-point average) is forever.”
Daniels said Tuesday that he wants to do something in the medical field so he can help people. He should have a chance to play in the NFL based on his size and his success at Iowa.
But just like with Butler and Wadley, there has to be a plan for life after football.
Imagine how tough these past two weeks have been with Iowa having suffered back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Purdue.
The players don’t have any time to feel sorry for themselves because their schedules won’t allow for it. The show must go on, both on the field and in the classroom.
“We are here for football and you guys are here to cover football, not academics,” Daniels said of the media. “But we’re all here for school. If there was no school, none of us would be here.
“I mean your degree; that lasts forever.”
And with that degree comes opportunities to make your life better.
That part of being a student-athlete will never change.