Bruggeman goes from walk-on to all-Big Ten

Dec. 22, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Rob Bruggeman is one of many success stories on the University of Iowa football team. A Hawkeye program that has feasted on turning walk-ons like tight end Dallas Clark into NFL all-pros, may have found a new poster child in Bruggeman.

“Coach Ferentz is a great guy. He gave me a chance when nobody else did,” Bruggeman said. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go coming out of high school and nobody really wanted me to go play for them. Iowa gave me a chance when nobody else would and that really means a lot to me.”

Bruggeman was named to the elite all-state line after his junior and senior seasons at neighboring Cedar Rapids Washington High School, yet very few scholarship offers followed. He joined the Hawkeyes as a walk-on and redshirted the 2004 season.

“When I came here it wasn’t really about getting a scholarship,” Bruggeman said. “I just wanted to play football. I knew this was a place that walk-ons could succeed. This is a place where walk-ons get a fair shot.”

Bruggeman battled through a broken hand, a major foot injury and torn ACL and MCLs to become the starting center for Iowa this season. He started all 12 regular-season games for an offensive unit that averaged 189.3 rushing yards per game, 373.9 total yards per game and reduced its sack total from the 2007 season by 20. Not only was Bruggeman named team captain for every game of the regular season, but he was named one of four permanent captains at the team banquet Dec. 13. He also received the Hayden Fry “Extra Heartbeat” Award and an offensive Hustle Team Award.

“If there are postseason accolades, it’s just a by-product of trying your hardest,” Bruggeman said. “It means a lot to be able to come here and succeed.”

Bruggeman was named second team all-Big Ten and was nominated for a Rudy Award, which recognizes student-athletes who demonstrate exemplary character, courage, contribution and commitment. Because of a stellar grade-point average, Bruggeman was named Academic All-Big Ten and first team Academic All-District VII by ESPN The Magazine and the College Sports Information Directors of America.

“If there are postseason accolades, it’s just a by-product of trying your hardest. It means a lot to be able to come here and succeed.”
UI senior center
Rob Bruggeman

“Coach Ferentz was always real honest with me,” Bruggeman said. “There were other schools in the state that weren’t honest with me. I respected the fact that Iowa told me the truth the whole time. If I was going somewhere, I wanted to go somewhere with character.”

The 6-foot-3, 287-pound Bruggeman will conclude his collegiate career by playing in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina on New Year’s Day in Tampa. The Gamecocks boast a stingy defense that allows just 288.9 yards per game and has sacked opposing quarterbacks 30 times.

“I know South Carolina is a real good team with a great defense,” Bruggemans aid. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing them. You play the game to win, so we’re going to hopefully go down there and come out with a win. That would mean a lot to our team and our program.”

Iowa (8-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) will be making its fifth January bowl trip in the last seven seasons. The Hawkeyes won their final three games and five of their final six since sitting with a 3-3 record prior to a game at Indiana on Oct. 11.

“We tried to stay positive the whole time,” Bruggeman said. “We stayed positive in the locker room even when the papers and other people were down on us and they were projecting we weren’t going to a bowl game. We were all focused in the same direction. “

And just as the Hawkeyes remained confident after a three-game losing streak from Sept. 20-Oct. 4, they have found a way to stay grounded after a late-season hot streak.

“If you’re not going to freak out about a loss, then don’t freak out about a big win,” Bruggeman said. “We try to stay even keel and focus on improvement, even when we’re winning.”

“If you’re not going to freak out about a loss, then don’t freak out about a big win. We try to stay even keel and focus on improvement, even when we’re winning.”
UI senior center
Rob Bruggeman

As the center, Bruggeman has his hands on the ball for every offensive play. He was also instrumental in anchoring a line that opened holes for Doak Walker Award-winning running back Shonn Greene, who gained 1,729 yards and 17 touchdowns. Life in the trenches doesn’t always allow a good view of many of Greene’s highlights.

“We get to watch film the next day and it’s usually pretty enjoyable,” Bruggeman said. “He’s a tough kid and a good guy. He runs hard and he runs downhill. He’s fun to block for. It’s kind of contagious the way Shonn plays and I think that helps motivate us and keeps everybody going out there.”

The Hawkeyes will participate in an evening workout Monday — their second-to-last practice in The Bubble — before leaving for Florida on Wednesday. The high temperature in Iowa City today is 6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 56 degrees colder than the high temperature forecast for Tampa.

Another football game, not just warmer weather, is what interests Bruggeman.

“The atmosphere down there is amazing,” he said. “It’s going to be great to get out of this cold weather, but it’s also going to be nice to go down and see all those Hawk fans who are ready to go. It should be a great game. You’re always playing a tough opponent when you’re down there and hopefully we’ll play our best football.”

Fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes who live in the Heartland or in the Sunshine State or in all points between should note that the UI Athletics Ticket Office is accepting ticket orders for the 2009 Outback Bowl. Click here to purchase your tickets online. Fans can also purchase over the phone by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS or over-the-counter at the UI Athletics Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.