By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz likes to call them stories, when an unheralded player defies the odds to achieve stardom as an Iowa football player and beyond.
The improbable rise of Marshal Yanda from little-known junior-college recruit to a two-year starter at Iowa to a 13-year NFL veteran whose destined for the Hall of Fame is one of the best stories to happen during Ferentz’s 23 years as head coach.
Yanda met with the media before Ferentz’s weekly press conference on Tuesday to talk about being named the 2021 recipient of the America Needs Farmers Wall of Honor.
Yanda, who grew up on a farm just north of Anamosa and played at Iowa from 2005-06, joins fellow Hawkeye alums Casey Wiegmann, Jared DeVries, Bruce Nelson, Robert Gallery, Dallas Clark, Chad Greenway, Aaron Kampman and Matt Kroul as ANF Wall of Honor recipients.
“It’s awesome, just my upbringing and how I was raised, I grew up on a dairy farm and my parents worked extremely hard growing up on the farm,” Yanda said. “To be able to be a part of this group and be a part of this week is special.
“Growing up on a farm you learn things by hard work and discipline and sacrifice, and that really transitioned to football for me for sure. My parents kind of showed me the way, working hard every day.”
Yanda said he and his sister used to work long hours on the family’s dairy farm and they thought that was how everybody lived.
“You thought everybody grew up that way and you didn’t realize that way of life is not for a lot of people,” Yanda said. “I appreciate the sacrifice of my parents.”
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Yanda credits his work on the farm for helping to make him a better football player.
“As a football player, I was pretty strong in the weight room, but people always talked about how I had that farm strength, that natural strength, that core strength,” Yanda said. “So that definitely came from the farm and just being physically active every day.
“I can remember my dad milking the cows and my dad had some guns back in the day from him being a farmer. So it’s physically demanding for sure.”
Yanda addressed a number of topics on Tuesday, including third-ranked Iowa’s much-anticipated showdown against No. 4 Penn State on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
“You just don’t look too far in the future,” he said. “Everything is in the moment. It’s all about having a good practice today, having a good meeting today. Make sure you’re hydrated. Make sure you’re eating well, fueling your body because your body is what produces on game day.
“But not over thinking it. Too many young players get that in their head and they maybe have more jitters than they normally should. But they prepare them here the right way where they’ve drilled that into them. I still remember getting it drilled into me where we take them one at a time. We prepare and we don’t worry about the opponent. We worry about us.”
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Yanda also talked about how playing for Kirk Ferentz helped to change the course of his life.
He used the words “preparation” and “focus” to help explain his experience as a Hawkeye.
“Any part of the game and everything around here is about preparation, the battle is won before it is fought,” Yanda said. “Every Iowa football team that takes the field is prepared, and that starts with coach Ferentz instilling that in us every day, just building you up to prepare.
“And then, obviously, focus, focus on your job, focus on your assignments, focus on just your eating, focus on everything. So I would just say he really paved the way, and the whole staff paved the way to set you up and put you on those railroad tracks as far as if I prepare and I focus, and if I max my potential, the sky’s the limit.”
Yanda played all 13 seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens and was considered one of the top guards in the NFL during much of his career.
He made first-team All-Pro in 2014 and 2015 and made second team five times. He was also a unanimous choice for the NFL’s 2010 All-Decade team.
“What a great benefit that has been for our program to have our athletes, current athletes, watch a guy like him, the way he worked, methodically and routinely throughout his pro career, to have the kind of success he had,” Kirk Ferentz said of Yanda. “First and foremost, for Marshal to be honored this weekend is really special, so deserving. What a great list of awardees on that wall, too. You more than fit on any wall worth having.”
Yanda used to train during the offseason at the Iowa football facility because he felt the atmosphere at Iowa would benefit him the most. He liked being treated just like everyone else.
“I loved being back here in the offseason,” Yanda said. “I loved spending time here because you find out in football, and in life, that this is a big family. When you go to battle together, you forge those bonds and those friendships. And I definitely forged those here.
“And to be able to come back was such a win-win for me. It was an edge for me. As an NFL player, the older you get, the less weights guys want to lift. The less back squats they want to do. And doing all that stuff back here, even into my 30s is what made me still play at high level.”
Yanda spends much of his time now helping to raise his three children and helping his father on the family farm.
He still is sorting out his life after football, but he said Tuesday that he might want to coach some day.
“I love the game,” Yanda said.