Hitting the Books Before Hitting the Sooners

Dec. 12, 2011

Insight Bowl Practice Photos (Sunday) | Video interview with T. Nielsen

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Oklahoma offense might not be the furthest thing from University of Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen’s thoughts, but until late evening Friday, Dec. 16, the Sooners won’t be at the top of his list.

That distinction goes to international business I, consumer behavior, and two entrepreneurial classes. For Nielsen and the Hawkeyes, it’s all about finals week, not bowl week.

“You have to know when your time comes to study and when it comes to do football,” Nielsen said. “Coach (Kirk) Ferentz is very true to his word about academics coming first, and he gave us a lot of time this week to study and put academics first.”

Finals week at the UI begins today and Nielsen has one exam — in international business I — this morning. His test in consumer behavior is Wednesday, and to top it off, he has the last two time slots for finals on Friday — at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

“It’s a busy week,” Nielsen said.

Because of his academic load, Nielsen, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior starter who has played both outside and inside linebacker positions, will miss practice Friday. Because of graduation, he will miss practice Saturday.

“I’m off for quite a while,” Nielsen said. “I have to hit the books.”

Nielsen hits the books with the same intensity he hits opposing ball carriers. One of three UI football student-athletes named to the Capital One Academic All-District VI first team, Nielsen carries a 3.56 grade-point average. The native of Humboldt, Iowa, already has a bachelor’s degree in finance and management. Nielsen has been named Academic All-Big Ten in each of the past three seasons. The other two Academic All-District selections for the Hawkeyes are defensive lineman Steve Bigach and quarterback James Vandenberg.

“Football does take up a lot of time, but you have to find time for the books,” Nielsen said. “I’ve been able to do that. It’s all about time management; for freshmen coming in, it takes a while to learn that. Once you figure it out, things go a little more smoothly.”

When his football career ends, Nielsen said he will “use my brain instead of my body,” possibly in estate planning or asset management. And as of Sunday evening, Nielsen’s body felt revitalized.

“It’s great to get a couple weeks off at the end of the season and get to feeling a little better and flying around again,” Nielsen said.

Although Nielsen traveled to the 2010 Insight Bowl — a 27-24 victory by the Hawkeyes against No. 12 Missouri — he did not play because of injury. In eight starts as a junior, Nielsen compiled 42 tackles (4 ½ for a loss) with four pass breakups and an interception. In 2011, he sat out one game because of injury, but still has 65 tackles and four tackles for loss.

“This year I’m feeling better and looking forward to actually having an opportunity to play (in the Insight Bowl),” Nielsen said.

The Hawkeyes completed their third practice of the postseason Sunday, and so far it has been all Iowa vs. Iowa, with no mention of Insight Bowl opponent Oklahoma, which entered the preseason as the No. 1 team in the nation.

“It’s just like camp practices,” Nielsen said. “We’re going at each other and not going after any Oklahoma stuff yet. We’re just focusing on getting better. We were a little rusty in the first one (Friday), but it’s all about improving and we’re getting better.”

When Nielsen finishes final exams, this is a Cliffs Notes version of what he and the Hawkeye defense will face Dec. 30 in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.: an Oklahoma offense that averages 532.1 yards and 40.2 points per game.

Kickoff is scheduled for 9:05 p.m. (CT) and the game will be televised by ESPN.