By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Compared to most Iowa football players, sophomore linebacker Jestin Jacobs is unique.
Regardless of what he does or doesn’t accomplish on the playing field, Jacobs still would standout because he has the rare distinction of being an Ohio native who turned down a scholarship offer from the Ohio State Buckeyes in order to play for Iowa.
He isn’t the first to do it, nor will he be the last.
But so very few times in the history of the Iowa program has a kid from Ohio said thanks, but no thanks to the Buckeyes because he wanted to be a Hawkeye.
Former Iowa center James Daniels is one player that comes to mind who turned down the Buckeyes to be a Hawkeye despite being from Ohio. But it’s hard to think of any others recently.
Fair to say Ohio State’s struggling defense probably could use the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Jacobs right now, but instead, he is part of a linebacker triumvirate with Jack Campbell and Seth Benson that is performing at a high level this season.
Campbell leads the team with 25 tackles, followed by Benson with 20, while Jacobs is fourth on the team with 16 tackles, including 10 solo stops.
That’s a combined 61 tackles for Iowa’s top three linebackers, and a big reason why the Iowa defense is the team’s biggest strength, along with Tory Taylor’s punting.
Jacobs also forced a fumble against Iowa State that Campbell returned six yards for a touchdown.
The Iowa defense has scored three touchdowns in three games this season, while also recording a safety.
Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing just 10 points per game, and is ranked second in rushing defense (81.0) and third in total defense (278.7) heading into Saturday’s game against Colorado State at Kinnick Stadium.
“You just have to look forward to the challenge,” Jacobs said. “That’s why you come here, to play in the Big Ten and play in a big conference. You look forward to the challenges and we have another one this week.”
Iowa’s defense is always well prepared and fundamentally sound under Phil Parker, but coaching only goes so far.
At some point, toughness and athleticism take over and that’s where the Iowa linebackers have thrived.
The ability of Campbell, Benson and Jacobs to make tackles in space has been critical to Iowa’s early success.
And though all three had experience heading into this season, Jacobs only appeared in five of eight games last season, while Campbell saw action in the last five games last season after having missed the first three games due to illness.
Campbell actually didn’t make his first start as a Hawkeye until this season, while Jacobs started one game last season.
So, in some ways, Iowa’s top three linebackers still are evolving, but they refuse to use youth as an excuse, or as a crutch.
“You have to be ready when your opportunity comes,” Jacobs said. “And that starts in practice with preparation.”
Story continues below
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was told Tuesday at his press conference that Jacobs said the players try not to us youth as an excuse, and it’s obvious from Ferentz’s answer where that mentality started.
Ferentz brought up something he heard from veteran NFL writer Peter King during the pandemic to help explain his feelings about young players having to step up.
“Peter King had a great line a year ago, during the pandemic, and basically, the line was, whenever the chaos ends, all anybody is going to care about is football, Ferentz said. “So, whether quarantines, all that stuff and all the things we were all challenged with last year, his point was whenever the ball gets teed up, nobody really cares. Forget about all the alibis, all the reasons you can’t get something done.
“And that’s really stuck with me, and I think that’s really kind of been part of our — not mantra, but just discussion this year is like nobody really cares if we’re young at this spot or that spot, because ultimately whenever you play the games it’s about getting the job done that day.”
Jacobs has shown a knack for causing fumbles, with two already this season, but he isn’t necessarily always trying to strip the ball. It’s just part of playing his position.
“I’ve just been trying to do my job,” Jacobs said. “Luckily, the plays have been working in my favor and that ball has been coming out. So we’ve just been focused on doing our job. An when you do your job, you start to make some plays.”
There is no magic formula for Iowa’s success on defense.
Parker obviously has a deep knowledge of the game, and years of experience to fall back on.
But part of the reason for Iowa’s success is good old-fashioned hard work.
“Our coaches are just focused on all-out effort,” Jacobs said. “They’re always on the defense, and on me, just about all-out effort on every play. Even when we’re going against the scout team. And when you practice like that and you have all-out effort during the whole week, when the game time comes it’s just second nature.”
As for his recruitment to Iowa, it happened despite Ohio State having made a late push for Jacobs in the recruiting process. Jacobs was committed to Iowa when he took an official visit to Ohio State in December 2018.
Kirk Ferentz doesn’t normally allow committed players to visit other schools, but he made an exception with Jacobs, and it worked as Jacobs stayed loyal to the Hawkeyes.
And now that loyalty is paying dividends for Jacobs, and for the Hawkeyes.