Schwartz: Make 2017 All About Akrum Wadley

April 23, 2017

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Akrum Wadley is a legitimate preseason contender for the Heisman Trophy.

The last time the Hawkeyes fielded a Heisman candidate, it was Shonn Greene. Greene went for more than 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns.

In that case, Greene snuck up on college football. There could not have been less hype around Greene coming into the 2008 season.

The last time the Hawkeyes fielded a preseason Heisman candidate …

Um …

It was …

Uh …

I don’t know – Chuck Long? Maybe?

The University of Iowa athletic department finds itself in unfamiliar territory when it comes to Akrum Wadley. He likely won’t win the Heisman, but he might. And just the possibility that he could win means the UI should be ready to market him in ways I’m not sure they know how.

They’ll need to sell Wadley ahead of the football program itself. They’ll need to push Wadley on every network, to every talking head, across every social media channel, on program covers, at weekly press conferences, to nationally syndicated radio shows.

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The “next man up,” “it’s the name on the front of the jersey not the back” blahbudee blah blah approach to football works great on the field and in the locker room. It doesn’t work well in marketing. Then again, Heisman Trophy contenders don’t come often to programs like Iowa, so it’s in the department’s best interests to do their part to keep him in the hearts and minds of Heisman voters.

Wadley, who was withheld from contact during most of spring practice, is now more than a running back. He’s a recruiting tool for the Hawkeyes. He’s a rushing, cutting, catch-me-if-you-can advertisement for University of Iowa football.

The UI has as much to gain from Wadley contending for the Heisman as Wadley himself.

And you know Wadley is thinking about the Heisman. He hasn’t hid his ambition. Nor should he. Big goals are important goals.

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The Hawkeyes aren’t short of storylines this season. How will Brian Ferentz handle the transition to offensive coordinator? What will having Ken O’Keefe back on the staff mean for the quarterbacks? Will Manny Rugamba be even three-fourths as good this season as he was last season as a freshman?

No storyline, however, lives within five blocks of whatever happens with Wadley. If it turns out he’s a dud firework – big bang on the launch, no spark in the sky – it will have a suffocating effect on everything else this team tries to do.

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But if Wadley meets expectations, watch out. If he runs the way we think he can run, the Hawkeyes should accomplish two key goals. First, win. Second, spend the 2017 season as a national television attraction.

This is where UI Athletics comes in. They need to push Wadley to the moon. Is there a chance he’ll fail? Of course, but they can’t worry about that. Is there a chance Wadley plays well but still below the level of a Heisman winner? Again, yes, but again, UI Athletics can’t worry about that.

Because there’s also a chance – a very real chance – that they have a once-in-a-decade offensive talent on their hands. Marketing opportunities like that need to be exploited when they come along.

They’re too valuable to pass up. Wadley deserves the push. The football program needs the push. So do it, UI Athletics.

Build Wadley into a star, and let’s see if he can actually become one.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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