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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Drake Kulick loves fall camp, putting him in the minority among his 100-plus football teammates.
Unlike the other Hawkeyes who have been running, sweating, and groaning on the Kenyon Outdoor Practice Facility since July 30, Kulick is coming off an incident that left him with a brighter outlook on practice and life.
You don’t need to remind the 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior fullback about the last time he was on a football field. Kulick matter-of-factly recounts a season-ending injury on the first play of Iowa’s 40-10 victory over Nebraska on Nov. 25. Quarterback C.J. Beathard handed the ball to running back LeShun Daniels, Jr., on an inside zone play that netted five yards.
In the process, Kulick drove Nebraska defensive end Ross Dzuris away from the action.
“I actually had a fairly good block on that play,” Kulick said.
Moments after the collision with Dzuris, Kulick’s left leg buckled against Cornhusker Michael Rose-Ivey.
“There was no doubt,” Kulick said when asked if he knew his leg was fractured.
It was a huge personnel loss for the Hawkeyes, despite the fact Kulick’s season rushing totals consisted of a 1-yard gain at Illinois a week prior to the injury. Kulick plays fullback, or as he describes it, one of the least-glamorous positions on the field.
While being carted off the cold Kinnick Stadium turf and into the locker room last November, Kulick wasn’t thinking about his injury or the certain long-term recovery that waited. Instead, he sent a message of assurance to teammates.
“I wanted to let them know I would be fine, don’t worry about me; go out and do what we came here to do, win the game,” Kulick said. “Every time one of your teammates, brothers, someone in your family, gets hurt, you worry about them and it becomes a thing where it is more than a game.”
Kulick did not dress for Iowa’s Outback Bowl game against Florida. The last eight months have been spent reducing pain, healing, and strengthening his left leg. There have been ups and downs.
“You have been working so hard through the rehab process and you have a bad day and the doctors and trainers can’t give you a reason why,” Kulick said. “All you know is it hurts and it won’t stop hurting. Because it was such a long process, it is paramount not to look all the way into the future; you have to take it a day at a time and sometimes those bad days weigh on your mind. Then when you come back and compound good day after good day, it boosts your confidence.”
I have learned how much I love this game. When you have an injury like that, some people doubt if you will make it back; there are days where you wake up and doubt if you can make it back. I know it has given me a brighter outlook on everything I do around the football field and I am enjoying the grind of football more than I did in the past. It is great to be back.
If Kulick isn’t 100 percent healthy, he is very close. He has not been limited in practices and is listed at first-team fullback on the preseason depth chart ahead of sophomore Brady Ross and junior Austin Kelly. He is on top of the depth chart and in many ways, on top of the world.
“I have learned how much I love this game,” Kulick said. “When you have an injury like that, some people doubt if you will make it back; there are days where you wake up and doubt if you can make it back. I know it has given me a brighter outlook on everything I do around the football field and I am enjoying the grind of football more than I did in the past. It is great to be back.”
If you think Kulick is happy to return, think about how senior running back Akrum Wadley feels. Last season Wadley rushed for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns, benefitting numerous times from Kulick blocks. Wadley and Kulick are roommates during camp.
“Drake brings that energy when he makes a good block,” Wadley said. “That picks up the whole team.”
Fall camp is long and hot during the dog days of summer. It’s understandable that Kulick viewed his first four camps with trepidation.
“I dreaded it,” Kulick said. “Everybody knows camp sucks and we don’t come out here to have a bunch of fun and enjoy our time. We come out here to get better and make sure we have the best football team we can.”
The Hawkeyes are a better football team with Kulick adding depth at fullback. He is back, healthy, and enjoying everything about the long, hot, dog days of fall camp.
Kids Day will be held Saturday, Aug. 12, in Kinnick Stadium. Activities begin in Krause Family Plaza at 9 a.m. (CT), gates open at 11, and practice is scheduled to begin at noon. Players will sign autographs at 11:30.