By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Perseverance, pride and persistence were all key factors in Dalton Ferguson achieving a milestone moment on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
And you also can add patience to the list.
On the same day that Kirk Ferentz became Iowa’s all-time winningest football coach with a 33-7 victory over Northern Illinois, Ferguson also did something special by making his first career start as a Hawkeye.
The senior offensive lineman from Solon started at right tackle for the suspended Tristan Wirfs and helped pave the way for 209 rushing yards.
“I’ve done my time and I’m in the front of the Swarm running out and I started to tear up and they played the Nile Kinnick excerpt and then I was tearing up again,” Ferguson said. “And at that moment, I was like, this is what I’ve been training for. The continual rehab and everything, this is what it’s been for.”
Ferguson could’ve easy said the heck with playing football after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee less than a year ago.
He had been buried on the depth chart since joining the team in 2014, and was also paying his own way to school as a walk-on.
But Ferguson refused to quit because being a Hawkeye means too much to him.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a Hawkeye,” Ferguson said. “They’re tough. They’re smart, physical, and we’re together.”
Ferguson was rewarded for staying the course by being put on scholarship at the end of preseason practice.
But he still was considered a long shot to start until Wirfs was arrested for drunken driving in July and then suspended for one game.
It wasn’t how Ferguson wanted to gain a starting position, but he will cherish the accomplishment forever, especially after overcoming a serious knee injury.
“Coming off an ACL most people would say screw it, I don’t want to do this anymore,” Ferguson said. "And I made the decision in April, I was like, I’m going to stick this out and I’m going to fight for as hard as I can, as long as I can and no one is going to say that I quit.”
Ferguson said he never wavered on his commitment to the Iowa football team. Even after spending four years in the program as a walk-on and then injuring his knew, Ferguson still embraced the grind.
He kept telling himself that something good would come from all of the pain and suffering, and he was right.
“I always believed it,” Ferguson said. “I always knew I could get here.”
Ferguson was pretty rough on himself when evaluating his performance.
“I don’t think I played very well at all, honestly,” he said. “I was bad on the backside and I left a couple plays out there on slants where I could have cut the guy, but he came over the top and made a couple plays.
“So I’ve got a lot to clean up for sure.”
Redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger also made his first career start for Iowa at left tackle for the suspended Alaric Jackson.
Kallenberger and Ferguson stood near each other in the interview after the game as reporters asked them to reflect on their big moment.
“It was a process to be here at this stage and to play,” Ferguson said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Junior Levi Paulsen also saw action at tackle on Saturday, and all three of the replacements at those two positions drew praise from their head coach, whose area of expertise is the offensive line.
"I thought all three of those guys, and I haven't seen the film, but from where I stand it looked like they did a really nice job," Ferentz said. "The thing I am optimistic about is that all three of those guys, that's going to do loads for their confidence."