By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz probably wouldn’t remember our brief conversation 15 years ago, although, given his incredible attention to detail, you never know.
But I still remember our conversation. It happened about a month after the national signing day for football in March 2005.
It wasn't an interview, but rather just a brief conversation.
Ferentz had signed by far his best class at Iowa, with multiple four-star recruits, and even a five-star in the class, so there was a buzz in the air and fans were excited and proud about Iowa having a top-10 recruiting class nationally.
Iowa had just finished a three-year stretch from 2002-04 where it won two Big Ten titles and compiled 31-7 record, and the star-studded 2005 recruiting class was part of the reward for that success.
Ferentz was obviously excited about the class, and he acknowledged its star power, but then out of nowhere, he brought up the one junior college player in the class, a little-known guy named Marshal Yanda, without me asking about him.
Yanda was from Anamosa and had played his first two seasons at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.
Ferentz didn’t make any bold statements about Yanda being a future star, but Ferentz wanted me to know that he was thrilled to have Yanda and believed in his potential.
Ferentz went out of his way to promote a player, and he hadn’t done that with me before.
Again, it wasn’t a bunch a hype, but rather Ferentz’s subtle way of saying don’t let this guy’s lack of star power and hype fool you.
That brief conversation made it so I never looked at Yanda the same again.
I even noticed that Yanda spelled his first name with just one L after that, and figured he was worth paying attention to.
And then I noticed that Yanda was pushing for a starting position that spring, and it was clear at that point why Kirk Ferentz had brought him up.
The young man whose potential Ferentz went out of his way to point out in our brief conversation retired from the NFL on Monday at the age of 35, and as one of the greatest guards in the history of the league, and as a lock to make the Hall of Fame.
Yanda started from his rookie season and had 166 starts in total. He also made eight Pro Bowls in the past nine seasons. The only time he didn’t make the Pro Bowl was 2017 when he played only two games due to injury.
Yanda was durable, consistent and fundamentally sound. And that combined with his toughness and talent made him the ideal offensive lineman.
Ferentz saw Yanda’s potential when few others did, and then with help from Chris Doyle and the Iowa culture, Yanda was molded into a star, one day at a time.
Yanda was two years older than the other players in his recruiting class, and his maturity was much needed.
With all of the star power in Iowa’s 2005 recruiting class, it was Yanda who become the biggest star in a class that also included heralded tight end Tony Moeaki and linebacker Pat Angerer, both of whom also played in the NFL.
Offensive lineman Dan Doering was the highest ranked player in the 2005 recruiting class as a five-star prospect, but his career never materialized, partly due to injury.
Dace Richardson was another coveted offensive lineman in Iowa’s 2005 recruiting class, and like Doering and Moeaki, he was from the Chicago area.
Richardson played at an All-Big Ten level at Iowa when healthy, but unfortunately, injuries kept him from reaching his full potential.
It’s easy to overlook durability, but stardom can’t be achieved without it.
Yanda started in each of his two seasons at Iowa, and made second-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 2006.
However, Iowa struggled that season, finishing just 6-7, so his contributions mostly went unnoticed by fans and the media, but not by the NFL.
Baltimore selected Yanda in the third round of the 2007 draft, and it was the start of a beautiful and lasting relationship.
Yanda was compensated well, and he earned every penny along the way.
His improbable rise to stardom is symbolic of the Iowa program where unheralded players often defy the odds because they embrace the team-first culture and believe in the coaches and in the value of hard work and staying the course.
Ferentz has changed the course of many young lives as the Iowa head coach, and he likes to refer to those successes as stories.
And Marshal Yanda’s incredible story ranks among the very best.