Tommy Poholsky knows his father is looking down from Heaven and proud of his decision to be a Hawkeye
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tommy Poholsky read the text message on his phone, but it just didn’t make any sense.
His high school football coach in Colorado had sent a message to all his players during a school day in October 2021 saying that there would be no practice that afternoon.
“It was a Wednesday, and we weren’t going to have practice. I was very confused because we had our biggest game of the year and we weren’t practicing,” Tommy Poholsky said in a telephone interview on Monday. “I was kind of livid because we needed to prepare for this, and I called my dad to see what was up.”
Tommy’s father, former Iowa quarterback Tom Poholsky, didn’t answer his phone. So, Tommy tried calling him again, but still no answer.
“But then I called my mom and as soon as she picked up I could hear the sadness in her tone and she told me to come to the principal’s office immediately,” Tommy Poholsky said. “And I got up there and she was bawling her eyes out and I was walking, actually I was sprinting to the principal’s office and I was just praying that nothing bad happened.”
Sadly, Tommy’s prayer wasn’t answered.
He was told that his father and best friend had passed away suddenly while on a business trip in Dallas, Texas.
Tom Poholsky, who played quarterback at Iowa from 1986-89 under Hayden Fry, was found dead in a Dallas hotel from an apparent heart attack.
His death sent shock waves throughout their close-knit community in Colorado where Tom Poholsky was a high respected assistant coach for his son’s high school football team.
A community mourns
Tommy Poholsky knew that his father was popular and that he had touched the lives of so many through his coaching, but Tommy didn’t realize just how popular his father was until seeing how many people attended the funeral.
“He just affected so many people in such a great way,” Tommy Poholsky said. “I could really see that in all the people that reached out to our family to help us, and then for his funeral, the amount of people, there were lines and lines of people coming to his funeral.
“I knew my dad was always a great person, but seeing it first-hand, it really just blew me away.”
Tommy Poholsky has relied heavily on the strength and love from his mother to cope with the overwhelming grief.
“My mom has really helped to keep us up and keep us moving forward as all moms do and she’s been great,” Tommy Poholsky said. “It hurts and it’s been awful, but I thank my mom for keeping us together and moving forward.”
For Tommy Poholsky, part of moving forward will be following in his father’s footsteps by playing quarterback for the Iowa football team.
Tommy Poholsky recently accepted the offer to be a preferred walk-on quarterback at Iowa, achieving a life-long dream.
He had a scholarship offer from CSU Pueblo and from at least two other Division III programs, and was talking to some other Division I programs when he committed to the Hawkeyes.
“It’s always been in the forefront of my mind,” Tommy Poholsky said. “We have Iowa gear all over the house because of my dad. So, it’s always been a dream of mine to follow in his footsteps.”
Tommy Poholsky is a senior at Evergreen High School in Colorado where he completed 198-of-331 passes for 2,622 yards, 37 touchdowns, and six interceptions this past season.
He played his senior season without his father at his side, but Tommy Poholsky always feels his father’s presence.
“I know he’s up in Heaven proudest as ever of me and I know he’s looking down and I can hear all the kind things he would say to me,” Tommy Poholsky said. “I know how proud he would be. It’s just special.”
Tommy Poholsky has tried to stay strong in the wake of this tragedy, but it’s been a struggle for him, for his family and for the entire community.
“It’s definitely been hard,” Tommy Poholsky said. “My dad was one of my best friends. He was so special in my life.
“It was really so, so terrible, not just for me, but for my whole family. And besides my family, this community and the people he knew, his family, and he was one of our coaches on our football team.”
One last conversation
Tommy Poholsky will always remember and cherish the final conversation that he had with father the night before his father passed away.
“I felt lucky that I got to talk to him before he passed because I left my backpack in our locker room, so I had to call him and ask if I could use his keys to get in and I just think that was a blessing that I was stupid enough to leave my backpack in the locker room just to call him one last time,” Tommy Poholsky said. “I was literally the night before.”
Tommy Poholsky’s father grew up in Missouri and was recruited to Iowa primarily by Kirk Ferentz, who was coaching the Iowa offensive line at the time.
Kirk Ferentz has since become Iowa’s all-time winningest head football coach, and he is also the longest-tenured Division I head coach in the country with 24 seasons at Iowa.
Tommy Poholsky feels a special connection to Kirk Ferentz through Tommy’s father and that was a key factor in Tommy’s decision to walk-on at Iowa despite having some other offers.
“Coach Ferentz actually recruited my dad out of high school, so he knew my dad very well,” Tommy Poholsky said. “And I think the whole family tradition at Iowa and how close not only the team is, but the community will definitely help along the way.
“And I think that is definitely what stood out and made my decision even easier to come there and play.”
All Tommy Poholsky wants is a chance to prove himself at Iowa, and he knows that he will be given a fair chance by people who care for him and who have his best interest.
Tommy will be among at least five quarterbacks on the 2023 Iowa roster, along with Michigan transfer Cade McNamara, sophomore Joe Labas, Wisconsin transfer Deacon Hill and incoming freshman Marco Lainez.
“I’m just coming in to really learn and just take knowledge from all the coaches and all the players above me,” Tommy Poholsky said. “I just want to work for everything and when my moment comes, my moment comes, and I want to make do with it.”
A stand-up person
Tommy Poholsky’s father started a few games as a Hawkeye, but he spent most of his time as a backup behind Mark Vlasic, Chuck Hartlieb and Matt Rodgers.
Tommy Poholsky isn’t surprised that his father stayed at Iowa instead of transferring because loyalty meant a great deal to his father, on and off the playing field.
“My dad was a stand-up person,” Tommy Poholsky said. “He did what was best not for him, but for the people around him. Things could be getting tough for him at work, but nothing would change with his mentality or his whole emotion. He wanted to make our family happy first before him.
“All the people that I’ve talked to that were friends with him when he was in high school, college, all say good things about his personality. I didn’t know him, of course, before I was born, so I’ve had to live off the stories and with all that and I never heard one negative thing about my dad.”
Tommy Poholsky said his father was always willing to throw the football with him and do whatever he could to help Tommy achieve his dreams.
They also had a friendly competition, and that was a factor in Tommy Poholsky deciding to play quarterback.
“I actually started as a tight end, but I always wanted to play quarterback and I looked up to him so much that I said, ‘okay, I’m not going to play tight end, I want to play quarterback and learn from him and really excel in the position and try to be better than my dad,”‘ Tommy Poholsky said. “There was always a competition between him an I and I always wanted to try and beat him in whatever I could.”
Tommy Poholsky is fortunate to have so many people that he can turn to for support, beginning, of course, with his family.
Nobody will ever replace his father, but Tommy Poholsky also draws inspiration from knowing that his father is looking down at him and helping to guide him through life.
“I think he’s with me through every step, every stage that I go through from here on out,” Tommy Poholsky said. “I know he’s up in Heaven sitting next to God and just helping me and guiding me and I know I can hear his voice still trying push me in the right direction because he wanted the best for me at all times. I know if I’m ever down, or if I just need to talk to him, I can. So, I definitely feel like he’s with me one-hundred percent.”
Tommy Poholsky said he will live the rest of his life trying to make his father proud, and will try to live up to the standard that his father set as a quarterback, but more so as a father and as a person of integrity.
“He’s the greatest dad that has ever walked this planet and he’s taught me great things and I just hope that I can be somewhat close to the person he was,” Tommy Poholsky said.
I am so excited to announce that I will be COMMITTING to the University of Iowa to further my athletic and academic career! Thank you dad and thank you God! @CoachMVP08 @CSAPrepStar @TylerBarnesIOWA @Iowa_Recruiting @BlairASanderson @TheIowaHawkeyes @CoachBFerentz @spauldingiowa pic.twitter.com/8MUnHAJHj3
— Tommy Poholsky (@TommyPoholsky14) January 28, 2023