April 3, 2014
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- 2014 Outback Bowl Central
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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.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It has taken Quinton Alston time for the lessons to stick, but he is now thriving after embracing words of wisdom from University of Iowa linebacker coaches.
“Let it loose and go out and play,” LeVar Woods said Wednesday at a news conference in the Hayden Fry Football Complex.
“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Start the play with instinct,” said Jim Reid.
With a graduation exodus of starters Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey, and James Morris, Alston, a senior from Sicklerville, N.J., is the most experienced Hawkeye linebacker in the running to swap the label of backup for starter. He is a three-year letterwinner who is listed on the spring depth chart as No. 1 at middle linebacker.
“I have to step up. Those were three big leaders, not just for our defense and for the linebacker corps, but for the team,” Alston said. “It’s not really something you can replace with those guys because it is a big impact on and off the field. We’re going to miss them.”
The 2013 UI football team won eight games and advanced to the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. When asked last week for the team’s biggest challenge heading into 2014, head coach Kirk Ferentz surprised no one with his reply.
“I’m going out there and trying to take on a leadership role those three guys left for us. They taught us how to do it. They provided the blueprint, now it’s time for us to step up.”
“We were very senior-heavy at the linebacker position,” he said. “We had three guys that played at an extremely high level, and they were outstanding in providing leadership on and off the field.”
Alston was one of 10 true freshmen to see action in 2011, recording seven tackles during the first nine games of the season. He added five stops as a sophomore.
“I was sitting back and admiring what I was seeing in front of me — James, Hitch, and Chris,” Alston said. “I became a student of the game, taking it in and learning. Now that I have the details down — the playbook and big concepts — I am starting to play faster, stop thinking, going out there and letting my ability show.”
Moving into a starting role as a senior doesn’t add pressure, Alston said. He has an impressive outline to emulate.
“I’m going out there and trying to take on a leadership role those three guys left for us,” Alston said. “They taught us how to do it. They provided the blueprint, now it’s time for us to step up.”
After four years of watching numbers 20, 31, and 44 dominate on defense, Hawkeye fans will familiarize themselves to a new group of student-athletes. Names like Alston, Travis Perry, Cole Fisher, John Kenny, Chad Gilson, Reggie Spearman, Josey Jewell, Bo Bower, Drake Kulick, Luke Lindahl, Steve Manders, and Laron Taylor.
“We get a chance to see some new faces and see where everyone is shaking out and where they’re all going,” Woods said.
“We’re looking forward to continuing to build a tradition of good, hard football that this program is known for,” Reid said.
It’s still nearly six months before UI defensive coordinator Phil Parker makes his first play call of the regular season. Whether it’s a blitz or base coverage, the latest Hawkeye linebackers will approach the snap with passion.
“Whatever he calls, we’ll go out there and play it as aggressively as possible,” Alston said. “You can expect hard hits and downhill play. That’s what coach Reid and coach Woods teach us. Regardless of the play call, we’re going out there and hitting somebody.”