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By CHRIS BREWER
FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — Bo Bower and Josey Jewell were not asked to break a sweat the last time Iowa visited Florida — a January 1, 2014 meeting with LSU.
Both players were true freshmen on the Iowa sideline 362 days ago. They donned Iowa jerseys, but neither player was issued shoulder pads, leaving no doubt as to whether or not they would see the field.
What a difference a year makes.
Bower and Jewell, both Iowa natives and redshirt freshmen, will be starting linebackers when Iowa faces Tennessee on Friday at the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
Bower will take his familiar spot at outside linebacker. Jewell will make his fourth career start at weak-side linebacker.
“It’s unreal honestly,” said Bower, a West Branch, Iowa, native who was not on scholarship before the season-opening kickoff. “It’s been a dream, but I’m not really dreaming anymore, I’m just out there doing it. It’s no longer something I’m thinking about. I’m out there doing it, and I’m just going to do it the best that I can.”
Bower has started all 12 games this season and is a mainstay on an Iowa defense that led the league in pass defense, allowing an average of 136.9 yards in eight Big Ten games. That’s quite an accomplishment for a unit that has fielded seven first-time starters.
Jewell, a native of Decorah, Iowa, is one of those seven. He recorded a career-high nine tackles at Minnesota on Nov. 8 and was inserted into the starting lineup one week later at Illinois. He has started each of Iowa’s three games since.
“It’s great to get in there,” said Jewell. “It’s a lot better than sitting on the sidelines.”
“I’m just out there doing it. It’s no longer something I’m thinking about. I’m out there doing it, and I’m just going to do it the best that I can.”
Redshirt Freshman LB Bo Bower
The transition from practicing with the developmental team to Iowa’s first-string defense has not come without a learning curve.
“There are a lot of new things that come up going from a true freshman to a redshirt freshman,” said Jewell. “There are a lot of things that can happen in a year. There are a lot of different things that I’ve had to learn throughout the year.
“You have to stay focused every day. You cannot take a day off, or a minute off. Every play matters when you’re out there.”
Bower says he is preparing like it’s any other game this season, but it’s not lost on him that it is the last game, and he says the four-week prep has been a blessing.
“Honestly, (the break) has helped a ton. The last couple practices have been really good. We’ve been going hard. It’s been like a little camp and it’s been really good for us.
“We’re just getting ready to go and having fun.”
The Hawkeyes will not take the field Sunday. Today is their “Monday” of game week. They will lift in the morning, and have the afternoon and evening to relax and enjoy Jacksonville.
The TaxSlayer Bowl will kick off at 2:20 p.m. (CT) from EverBank Field in Jacksonville on Friday, Jan. 2.