By HANNAH OSSMAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa assistant coach Seth Wallace has served as the linebackers coach for three seasons and has been a part of the football program for eight.
He promoted two athletes to the next level after last season. Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann made their debuts in the National Football League this fall. Jewell was drafted by the Denver Broncos, and Niemann made the Kansas City Chiefs roster as a free agent.
“It’s a compliment to this program and how we’re built here from a player development standpoint,” said Wallace. “I hope it gives reassurance that if [the athletes] continue to develop and continue to do the things that we’re asking them to do, they may have a chance at playing at the next level.”
This season has been different for the Hawkeyes with six linebackers making the starting lineup for the first time, including redshirt freshman Djimon Colbert, sophomore Nick Niemann, juniors Amani Jones, Kristian Welch and Amani Hooker, and senior Jack Hockaday.
Though the six are getting their first career starts, they are not new to the field. All but one of the Hawkeyes have seen playing time on special teams before this season, a tradition that has helped prepare the Hawkeyes for their current roles.
“Anytime you’re on the field, you gain valuable experience being out there just from the simple fact of moving past the anxiety portion of being out there,” Wallace said. “All of these guys that have played for us have played special teams up to this point. It’s been good.”
After losing the leadership of three starters and the first reserve linebacker, which included Jewell and Niemann, Wallace and his young group of guys look to the men lined up in front of them to fill that role.
“We’ve got a veteran defensive line,” Wallace said. “There’s a lot of leadership in that group. It’s allowed for [the linebackers] to be able to go out there with a lot of confidence. What we’re doing starts up front and those guys have done a heck of a job.”
With all of the position spots to fill this season, the Hawkeyes have stuck to the ‘next man in’ mentality that has been a consistent philosophy for the program.
“The biggest thing was recognizing that we did need to start from ground zero with these guys,” Wallace said. “They’ve handled the challenges starting back in January when this season officially started. They’ve done a heck of a job and been committed to it. We’re seeing that with some of their play out there. We’re fortunate right now because we have played a handful of guys, which has allowed us to build some depth.”
Collectively, the linebackers have tallied 181 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss for 42 yards, and three sacks for 31 yards. Hooker has shown his aggressiveness on the field adding two interceptions, a forced fumble, and five of the squad’s eight pass breakups.
The group has proven their determination on the field and has adapted when needed.
“In what we do defensively, you’ve got to be prepared inside or outside,” Wallace said. “The injuries have allowed us the opportunity to juggle that. I don’t know if in years past, we would have had that flexibility. This should prove to be very helpful in the last half of the season.”
The Hawkeyes travel to University Park, Pennsylvania, to play No. 16/17 Penn State on Saturday. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. (CT) at Beaver Stadium, and the game is broadcast on ESPN.