As a prep at New Hampton (IA) High School, Mike Humpal competed as a football player, a wrestler, and a track athlete. It was his wrestling skill that first caught Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz’s eye, as the Hawkeye head man watched the state finals at 215 pounds on television during Humpal’s junior year.
It was after that junior season that Humpal decided to focus on football, where he played in all three phases of the game. He was a linebacker, a punter, and a self-described “slow white running back.” During his prep career, he ran for over 2,300 yards and scored 30 touchdowns. He would earn several all-conference and all-state honors in that senior season, including Des Moines Register Elite first team all-state.
“I wasn’t a blue-chip five-star, just a typical Iowa recruit, a two-star guy, a multi-sport athlete.” Humpal said. “I made up my mind junior year as the recruiting process started picking up, it seemed like the right thing to do.
“In hindsight, I’m glad I did that. I have an idea of how much time and effort goes into that recruiting process, but I was never good enough to have people interested in what I was going to do.”
The summer before his junior season, Mike visited Iowa City for a Hawkeye camp. There, he met the coaching staff and got a “really good feeling” about the school. They had yet to offer, but liked what they saw that day, giving him advice on his final year as a prep.
“Go enjoy your senior year,” Humpal recalls them saying. “We’re going to want to see the first couple weeks of film, but enjoy your senior year, you only get two of them in life, one in high school and one in college.
“They’re your best years that you’ll ever experience. Go enjoy the season and have fun playing football.”
A few games into his senior season, Humpal sent game film down to Iowa City and heard back a few days later with a scholarship offer. He took the phone call in head coach Scott Frerichs’ math classroom.
“I told (Coach Ferentz) ‘My mind is 99 percent made up at this point that I’ll say yes, but I want to run it past my parents,’” he said. “’I’ll give you a call tonight.’
“I talked to (my parents), and that was it. They told me ‘You do what you want to do.’”
In his first two years on campus, Mike was slowed by a nagging knee injury. After consulting with Dr. Ned Amendola and other UIHC physicians, they discovered that pressure on his knee was cutting off blood flow, causing portions of his tibia to begin to die off.
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To relieve that pressure, Humpal elected to go under the knife for what is known as a high-tibial osteotomy. Essentially, the surgeons cut away a part of his tibia, to shift the pressure in his knee to a different area, relieving the pain he was experiencing.
“I’m so glad I picked Iowa, because if I hadn’t, there’s a really good chance I could have been done playing after that knee surgery,” Humpal said. “I’d had multiple knee scopes, they were trying to patch the whole thing up, we were hoping we didn’t have to change the tires.
“(Amendola) never gave me the sense that it could end my career, so I never really worried about it. I was 19 at the time, thinking ‘Holy cow, that’s kind of a big deal.’ He was confident in what he was doing, he’s on the cutting edge of healthcare. I had full faith in him, and the University of Iowa medical staff.”
Following the surgery, Humpal was back in action for fall camp in 2005. After playing spot duty that season, he earned a starting spot in ’06, recording 49 total tackles and three interceptions as a junior. His senior season, he started alongside Mike Klinkenborg and A.J. Edds, matching his three interceptions from the year before, but upping his tackle total to 124.
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He earned several accolades for his performance in ’07, including the team defensive MVP, the Iron Hawk award, second-team all-Big Ten, among others. However it is the final game of his Hawkeye career, a 28-19 home loss to Western Michigan that sticks in his mind.
“I remember walking off the field at the end of the game right next to Mike Klinkenborg, the crowd was booing and I thought, ‘Holy cow, this is not how we envisioned our careers ending here,’” he said. “Number one, we didn’t see the game going that way, but number two, never in a million years would I have guessed I’d be getting booed off the field of the team you played for the last four and a half years. That was a shot to the heart.”
Despite the sour ending to his time as a Hawkeye, Humpal said he has amazing memories of his time at Iowa, mentioning many of his teammates, but particularly calling out his old defensive coordinator, Norm Parker, who passed away in ’14. Humpal lives in North Liberty with his wife Lindsey and son, Parker – named after Norm.
At the NFL Draft Combine in ’07, Humpal’s surgically repaired knee took center stage. He described a room with a large exam table in the middle, surrounded by tables with doctors from each NFL team. Those doctors, used to hearing about ACL repairs and broken bones, took notice of Humpal’s unique surgery.
“It really piqued their interest, asking if I had any problems with it since,” he said. “(The doctors) just could not believe it, nobody could believe it.
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“That’s when it really hit me. These guys see injured players all the time, but this was kind of a big deal”
Humpal was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round of the ’08 NFL Draft, and unfortunately, Humpal’s NFL career was cut short by a different recurring injury, neck stingers. A problem he’d dealt with at Iowa continued into the NFL, and began affecting his strength and range of motion. He was given the opportunity to fuse his vertebrae together in his neck, but he said the outcomes were “50/50” and chose to forego the surgery. He was released in ’09.
After spending some time in medical sales, Humpal decided to return to school to pursue his original career plans of becoming a chiropractor. He enrolled at Palmer School of Chiropractic, taking a particular interest in the ways the discipline could help improve the health and performance of athletes.
“Health and consistent play are the two variables in the NFL that, if you can maintain those, you can stick around for a long time,” he said. “Competitive advantage can come from all different directions; musculoskeletal, mental, and nutritional choices can make all the difference in the world.”
Humpal graduated in October, and he’s preparing to open his own practice, Humpal Chiropractic, in North Liberty in January ’18. His office will be open to all clients, not just athletes. While the practice will focus mainly on chiropractic therapies, it won’t be a destination only for those who are already injured or suffering pain.
He has found plenty of benefit from not only chiropractic care, but associated diet and preventative care as well. He’ll be working through that same approach with all his patients, helping find a plan that fits each individual.
“Hopefully I can share those results and benefits with other people, keep them on the field before it gets too bad,” he said of something he calls “pre-hab instead of rehab”. “It’s about making lifestyle changes along with chiropractic, while also helping them find better choices to support that chiropractic care.”