By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Dalton Ferguson has participated in “The Wave” since its inception on Sept. 2, 2017. There will be added meaning Saturday when the University of Iowa hosts Northern Iowa inside Kinnick Stadium.
It has been a successful, eventful, and stressful beginning to the football season for Ferguson, a 6-foot-4, 308-pound fifth-year offensive lineman from Solon, Iowa. Ferguson became a first-time starter at left tackle for a season-opening victory over Northern Illinois on Sept. 1.
Before a win over Iowa State on Sept. 8, he became a father.
“You can call yourself a dad, but this is something I want to earn,” Ferguson said. “I want to be the best father I can, so I’m doing any little thing I can to help out.”
His first exposure to parenthood has Ferguson seeing double. Twin daughters were born to Ferguson and his girlfriend, Rachael, at 6:25 and 6:26 a.m. on Sept. 7. One weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces, the other was 3 pounds, 4 ounces. Being five weeks premature means an extended stay in the neonatal intensive care unit on the sixth floor of the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
For more than a season — nine games in all — when the first quarter of football in Kinnick Stadium concludes, Ferguson looks east toward the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital and waves to strangers. On Sept. 8, he waved to family.
“At the time it was so surreal, I don’t think I grasped the concept that I have two kids,” Ferguson said. “I was able to flip the switch a little bit; afterwards (Iowa offensive coordinator) Brian Ferentz came up to me and said, ‘The twins are undefeated.'”
The Hawkeyes’ postgame celebration was electric, but even that feeling paled in comparison to Ferguson’s postgame celebration in the hospital.
“I went up and held them for the first time,” he said. “It was awesome, amazing.”
A week after his first start against Northern Illinois, Ferguson saw action on special teams during the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series. He was exhausted.
“We have these sleep-tracker bands and my strength coaches were texting me, ‘Why did you get two hours, 20 minutes of sleep (Thursday) night? What is going on?'” Ferguson said.
Ferguson was a three-year letterman and two-time captain at Solon before coming to Iowa as a walk-on. He played in eight games (including the Rose Bowl) as a redshirt freshman and 12 games as a sophomore. During practice in April, 2017, Ferguson tore an ACL and missed the first nine games of the season.
“After the injury, I changed my mindset on what Iowa football and family meant to me,” Ferguson said. “I took a more serious approach, not that I wasn’t serious before, but I needed to focus.”
On Wednesday, after holding both twins at the same time for the first time, a notion hit Ferguson like a blitzing linebacker.
“What I had been doing this whole time as a football player here was preparing myself to be a dad, as weird as that sounds,” Ferguson said. “It is not easy, but coach (Kirk) Ferentz has given me the tools to be a successful father.”
Tools like work ethic, integrity, and honesty.
Ferguson met his girlfriend of 16 months in a night class at the University of Iowa. Rachael has received a bachelor’s degree and is returning to school to become a sonographer.
Ferguson said everyone in the Richard O. Jacobson Football Operations Building has been “very supportive” since he joined the ranks of fatherhood. In fact, when Ferguson returned to team activities Sept. 7 to listen to an address by honorary captain Michael Titley, he was presented a gift that included three boxes of diapers, baby wipes, and accessories for his girls.
The bundle for Ferguson’s bundles of joy came from a likely source: offensive line twins Landan and Levi Paulsen.