Clauss: Reflections on 2009 Season

January 8, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Here are some random thoughts on the season, the Georgia Tech game and all things Hawkeye Football from former Hawkeye & NFL Defensive Tackle Jared Clauss.

I am encouraged and excited to welcome another great group of seniors into the former Hawkeye player fraternity.  This like so many others was a great class.  From Iowa high school standouts, to guys from all over the country; it was a pleasure to watch their careers develop.  I found myself standing and watching the players as they rushed to get their championship hats at the Orange Bowl and how they interacted with each other and the coaches.  That is a moment they will never forget.  As great of a blessing as the NFL was for me in my short career, there is no comparison to the aforementioned celebration and Hawkeye football.  Maybe I’d have another opinion if I was kicking as accurately as Nate Kaeding, laying people out like Bob Sanders or catching every possible ball thrown to me like Dallas Clark, but I bet those guys would agree that the time spent in Iowa City wearing black and gold is unmatched.

It’s the little things like a hug between two guys who have been putting their hand down on the ground next to each other for years, to a group laugh as Stanzi proclaimed “USA #1” that leaves a lasting memory.  All the 6:00am runs, film study and hot two a day practices fade away and you remember those things.  It was fitting to go out in such a positive way for those guys.  I am going to remember Eubanks reaching nose guards (a sure way to a sound running game), Angerer giving me a great laugh with his sound bites from the media throughout his career, Edds being in the right place at the right time…consistently, Moeaki’s rare combination of size and speed, and so many other great seniors and the contributions they made.

To watch Angerer hold his arm in the air, his fist clinched as he left the field brought back memories of walking down the tunnel following the bowl game in Tampa after putting a hurt on the Gators and having my helmet held high.  There is nothing more prominent than a raised fist in celebration.  To understand what Iowa’s coaches ask of these young men and to see success develop off of that is a remarkable thing.  It is not easy to balance school, a social life, and a program that requires complete commitment.  That raised fist stands for relentless effort over the course of 4 and 5 years, dealing with adversity, for appreciation for those who have supported you, for a belief in yourself and a satisfaction of leaving the University with nothing but fumes left in the tank.  The players that truly embrace this give it an “everything you have” Hawkeye mentality and they leave the program proud supporters of those that come behind them.

I’d like to think I am in that camp (I guess you’d have to ask Chris Doyle if I gave it all I had).  They are also the ones who maximize their potential and give themselves a great opportunity to continue to play ball.  Iowa will never have the most talented teams from top to bottom in the country; it isn’t in our cards with our in state population and recruiting base, but I’ll take 100% of ‘wants to be good’, as opposed to 50% of ‘should be good’.  These seniors wanted to be good.  That, mixed in with some great talent, good support from the coaches and University and an ‘I’m going to physically make you quit’ attitude and you get a season like we just had.  So thank you to those seniors.  Job well done.

Hawkeye football is a proud and lasting tradition.  What I saw in Miami and what I saw all year was another great Hawkeye team led by some fantastic seniors who understood that.  Play a little harder, train a little longer, study a little more diligently and leave it all out there.  Disagree with me if you want, but I never once saw someone taking a play off, and I never saw laziness this season (hard to ever see in a Ferentz team).  When we got beat, the other team capitalized on mistakes.  It wasn’t them breaking our will; it was athletes wearing other colors making athletic plays and playing good ball.

I think we broke Georgia Tech’s will.  We out prepared GT, we out played GT, and we earned that victory. We didn’t do it with elaborate schemes and trickeration (although the fake field goal was fantastic, I don’t care if it didn’t work).  We won that game with a laser like focus on technique, understanding your opponent and flat out wanting it more. Norm had another gem up his sleeve this whole time and the offense was efficient and steady.  The long layoff was a non factor, Kudos to the coaches.  Mark my words, records are made to be broken but that record will stand forever (12 yards passing in the Orange Bowl).  I don’t care if they are a run first team, 12 yards passing!  There is nothing better as a player than to look over on an opponent’s sidelines and either see everyone in those big winter coats when it’s cold, or maxing out the bench space late in a game.  I saw that on Tuesday night.

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They earned a lot of things this year and I think it’s safe to say they earned all of our respect.  I am not in the camp of caring about stats and style points.  I heard they were considering allowing one of the two National Championship teams in next year based on statistical dominance but I’m betting they keep it simple and go with wins and losses.  This year was special because we had some of the greatest games of the last decade all rolled into one season.  Think back, we finished with 11 wins in as brutal a road schedule as there has been in recent memory.

No one outside of those directly involved with the program took the losses to OSU or NW harder than me.  But I also realize we pulled out some heroic wins in East Lansing, Happy Valley, and home against Michigan, Indiana, and UNI when it wasn’t looking so good.  It was as exciting a season as I can remember.  I don’t know what gifts or things the bowl gave them but I can assure you that in five years the item they’ll cherish the most is a $5 tee shirt that says Orange Bowl Champs on it.  If you polled fans from around the country and asked them to name our best players I bet they’d have a hard time, maybe Stanzi would be remembered.  But that’s what makes Iowa Football great; it is a team effort.  This season was a team effort, different guys stepping up in different games.

Now a slightly different view.  Anyone who has ever played knows that the worst thing to have happen on the road is to run out of the tunnel to in an opposing stadium when it’s completely silent.  I’m a realist and know that you could never stop everyone from booing the opponent (although there are certain fan bases that have accomplished that), but I might offer my two cents to say we fans should try and increase our home field advantage when we have one.  Booing only unites the opponent and sparks a fire inside them.  It collectively puts their back against a wall and people come out swinging once they’ve hit the ropes.  Home field advantage exists based on locker conditions, field conditions, travel complexities, proximity of fans to sidelines, crowd noise that disrupts ability to communicate on the field, and emotional assurance from good plays made by the home team they can feed off of.  I never personally left a stadium and said or heard any of my teammates after an away game say “Man that’s a tough place to play, their crowd boos so darn loud when we run out”

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I feel as if this is a detriment to our team and persona as a fan base when we boo.  Having watched some games from the stands after my career ended I have come up with a couple of conclusions. 1. Hawk fans are very passionate and knowledgeable.  2. They are committed to their team.  3. They want to see a quality product on the field.  One thing I have been surprised to see and didn’t notice was the little things.  When we beat GT and the Orange Bowl representative said we want to congratulate GT for a great game, we booed.  This bothered me.  I don’t remember a dirty game, I don’t remember players running their mouths from GT outside of the ‘normal’ amount, and I can’t think of any reason why we as a fan base would do this.  We are better than that.

Now having said that I realize that the majority of fans weren’t booing, but 5,000 out of 70,000 or however many attended the Orange bowl can still be pretty loud.  Because we wear the same colors we are a family, let’s have the same kind of class that the players do.  Would you be proud if our guys all started pounding their chests after making a play, or running their mouths constantly?  Let’s hold ourselves accountable at a level that the coaches expect out of the players.  That’s my two cents on that, call me whatever you want but let’s have some more class than that.

I wish Bulaga, Dace, and whoever else is heading early to the NFL all the best in their careers. I can’t fault them for taking advantage of that opportunity.  I am not going to act like I have something profound to say because I was never in that position to leave early (they don’t draft you high for playing the scoop block well).  I hope they take the work ethic and drive that I know exists in them from the routine of Iowa football and keep it going.  That’s what makes a successful pro.  I hope they don’t fall into the trap of blending in.

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The best guys I ever played around in the NFL weren’t the typical.  They made the 6:30 am lifts in season when you didn’t have to, they took care of their bodies when there were nachos and hot dogs in plain sight, they kept that accountability to themselves and prepared like they were still in college.  These guys will soon realize that things change now.  One-third of your team rotates in and out every year, guys are 35 years old in the locker room and there is more free time; they have to stay focused.  There is a reason why there are a lot of Iowa alumni still in the league.  It’s because certain things have been ingrained in them over the last several years and they don’t lose it.  I hope those guys don’t lose it.

Looking back I am thankful I had a chance to play for those coaches.  They got a skinny, slow kid from Des Moines to play at a pretty high level (although that could be argued).  I was part of Coach Ferentz’s first class.  I knew very little about him when I committed to play ball there but I trusted what he told me and felt his honesty was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the big talk I heard from other schools.  Kids see right through that stuff.

I hope these seniors and those on the team next year realize how much these coaches care and put into this team, and what a great opportunity there is to maximize your God given talents in this program.  I realize there are other good coaches in this country but I wish I could speak to players considering Iowa and tell them what a wonderful experience it was.  It’s no accident that we are a top tier program; it doesn’t happen by chance.  Another top 10 finish, with a lot of talent coming back.  What a year!  I enjoyed meeting new people this year and seeing some of the old familiar faces before games and can’t wait to see the stupid t-shirts and turkey legs again next fall.  Until then, ON IOWA.

Jared Clauss currently lives in his home town of West Des Moines and is a wealth manager.

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