Added Emotion and Leadership on the Line

Oct. 14, 2004

Brian Ferentz regained his starting position two weeks ago against Michigan State at right guard, but the depth chart caught up to the change this week, before the Hawkeyes entertain Ohio State Saturday at 2:35 p.m.

Ten months ago, however, the former center and his father, Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, had different goals.

In fact, there was a time when the coach thought his son would never play football again let alone start.

“There was a time when I thought he wouldn’t because we heard all the potential options. That put everything in perspective,” Ferentz said. “We just hoped he would have a healthy leg and be able to play with his kids when he’s 40.”

The younger Ferentz developed a staph infection in his left knee following an injury that forced him out of the final six games of the 2003 season and required surgery. When the infection developed, one of the potential options that doctors discussed with the Ferentz family was amputation.

In addition to that sobering news, Brian’s weight dropped from an offensive-lineman-like 282 pounds to a “wrestling weight” in the low 230s. But that was “the least of [the] problems,” according to the coach.

“The joint could have had the wrong type of staph infection, and it could have been a lot worse,” Kirk Ferentz said. “The key thing was getting the infection under control. That’s where the medical staff was phenomenal.

“First and foremost, he received tremendous medical care.”

Once a real recovery could begin, Brian didn’t face any major setbacks, according to his father. The separating factor, though, was Brian’s desire to play this season.

“We talked about getting him a medical (redshirt) this year, and then having a sixth year, but in his mind he wanted to be back in late September or early October,” said Kirk, who has had to watch his son go through two season-ending injuries, the first in his freshman season before the Hawkeyes defeated Indiana.

Despite the evident optimism, Brian admits he thought his career may have been over as well.

“With every injury there’s that point where you’re not sure,” he said. “That happens to everybody. I think that’s natural. Of course, I was worried about that, but you have to flush it. You take it one day at a time, and that’s all you can do. (The doctors and coaches) will tell you when you can play. That’s oversimplified, but that’s basically what you do.”

Brian started convincing his father he was ready to go after Iowa defeated Iowa State last month. Even after health concerns, missing months of practice and conditioning worried the coach.

“He just missed so much time; I know we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Kirk.

Brian used the exact phrase to sum up his sentiments after the homecoming win against MSU. But, he said, he’s starting to feel “pretty comfortable” at guard, a position he hadn’t played since high school.

“It feels good to be back out there,” he said. “I might resist going back to center. But I’m going to do what’s best for the team, just like the other guys are going to do what’s best for the team.”

The transition from center to guard would be easier than going from guard to center, according to the younger Ferentz.

“It’s more transferable. I could care less,” he said. “If they told me to play running back, which I don’t think will happen but could happen, I would play it. I’m just happy to be back.”

“That happens to everybody. I think that’s natural. Of course, I was worried about that, but you have to flush it. You take it one day at a time, and that’s all you can do. (The doctors and coaches) will tell you when you can play. That’s oversimplified, but that’s basically what you do.”
Right guard Brian Ferentz

Brian says each game he plays will have added emotion.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s very emotional when you get a chance to come back. I’ve been to the point where I had doctors tell me that I probably wouldn’t do it again. It definitely means more. I wouldn’t say it means more to me than anyone else, but on a personal level yeah. It means more to me than last year, it means everything.”

The coach agrees with his son, and says that added perspective has helped his leadership abilities. Players, especially on the young and inexperienced offensive line, have looked to Brian – and his near two years of experience – for guidance already.

“I think it certainly helped the last time out,” Kirk said. “I’ll give him credit for a lot of things, but one thing is that during the time he’s missed he’s probably seen things in a little different light. That’s the beauty of experience, if you let it work for you.

“Brian led the group last time out, and I think we’re to the point now where we’ll see that with Mike Elgin and Mike Jones and the real young guys. Hopefully they’ll start to feel more comfortable with what they’re doing out on the field. I don’t know if (Brian’s) the leader, but he probably adds to the intangibles just because of his experience,” concluded the coach.

“He’s been through some things where he has a little different perspective on things than he had a year ago.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com