Out of the Shadows

Aug. 10, 2006

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Mike Humpal got to play in all twelve of Iowa’s football games last year, but a fan might not have noticed because of two guys named Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge.

Expect Humpal to play in all twelve games this year – and expect to notice.

The 6’2” junior from New Hampton, IA was listed as the first-team outside linebacker following spring practice and could soon make fans wonder whether the Hawkeyes have a secret tree near the practice field where they grow star linebackers.

Just don’t expect Humpal to boast about it, especially when talking about areas he needs to improve.

“Pretty much everything,” he said. “You can always improve every area of the game. Just the fundamental things and technique, you can always fine tune that stuff.”

He said he is bigger, faster and stronger now than when he arrived at Iowa, and his 232-pound listed weight is up from the 215 pounds he was in high school as a state 2A wrestling champion.

An academic all-Big Ten athlete in 2005, he is also one of three juniors named to the Hawkeyes’ leadership council, along with Bryan Mattison and Albert Young.

Still, don’t look for Humpal to tell you so.

“Yeah I look at myself as a leader,” he said. “I look at everyone on the defense as a leader in their own way. Being a linebacker, it’s the quarterback of the defense, so it’s just something that comes along with the defense.”

Luckily, defensive coordinator Norm Parker isn’t so modest when discussing the linebacker.

“I think Humpal can be outstanding,” Parker said. “I think there will be a day when Humpal is gonna be something special.”

Head coach Kirk Ferentz mentioned former Hawkeyes Grant Steen and LeVar Woods — who played the same position as Humpal — and said that he think Humpal “really has a chance to play at the level that those two played at and maybe even beyond.”

“He just had a tremendous preseason going into spring ball and really performed very, very well in the spring and into the summer,” Ferentz said. “He’s got a great, great future.”

That future will be now for the junior, who has seemed to solidify his spot at outside linebacker, while the other linebacker positions are competitions between Ed Miles and Brian Gattis in addition to Zack Gabelman and Mike Klinkenborg.

The trek to a starting position has been a long one for Humpal, who redshirted his freshman year and was listed on the second team his second year, before suffering a back injury and undergoing knee surgery after playing in the season’s first two games.

“Mike was an excellent football player coming out of high school,” Ferentz said. As a running back and linebacker in high school, Humpal racked up 2,308 yards and 30 career touchdowns. “We’re excited about Mike, and last year he was battling back from knee surgery — he would have a good day and then have a bad day.”

And while many prognosticators demerit Iowa’s defense for having to replace Greenway and Hodge, Humpal doesn’t have to worry about playing in any shadows.

“Uh no, I really don’t,” he said. “I’m actually playing a different position than (Greenway). They did great when they were here, they kind of earned that. It doesn’t bother me.”

What they did leave for Humpal is a commitment to film study and what he describes as “super high intensity” they brought to both practice and games.

That intensity will be important for a crucial member of the defense. As an outside linebacker, Humpal will often find himself on the line of scrimmage, almost as another defensive lineman, though he will still retain coverage responsibilities in the passing game.

“Coach always says that’s a hybrid position, it takes someone that can defend the run and also walk out and cover receivers,” he said.

And Parker – who, granted, is prone to exaggeration – said that he thinks he’s got a good man for the job.

“You talk about a guy that’s a 2-time state wrestling champion, he was in the high hurdle finals when he was in high school, he’s a 4 point student, he cares, he works hard, he’s a tough kid,” Parker said. “I mean he’s just got all the qualities it takes to be a good football player.”

By Gregg Found, UI Sports Marketing