There was a time in the not-so-distant past that you couldn't mention Iowa Hawkeye football without a discussion of its talented and over-powering defensive units. Schooled in the basics by former defensive coordinator, the late Norm Parker, Hawkeye defenses didn't do anything fancy. They just played straight up, smash-mouth, Big Ten defense. And they won in the process.
Recruited by Iowa as part of the class of 2012, Drew Ott came along a year too late to get any direct football lessons from the well-respected defensive guru who retired after the 2011 season, but in many ways Ott still embodies and displays that same Parker way of playing defense. It's all about the basics. Done well repeatedly and with measurable improvements each time you hit the field.
A native of Trumball, Neb., Ott was named the 2011 Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year during his senior year in high school, as well as to the Parade High School All-America Team. At Iowa, he saw limited action as a freshman during the 2012 season, where he watched from the sidelines for the first seven games before entering at Northwestern for his first official duties. He would go on to finish his first collegiate season with one solo tackle and two assists in the final five games. But he was far from finished or from making an impact on the field.
Reflecting back on that first game at Northwestern in 2012, Ott says "I got man-handled a little. Since then I've packed on weight and strength thanks to conditioning coach [Chris] Doyle. I've come a long way."
A long way indeed. By the 2014 season he finished with 26 solo tackles and 31 assists, including 12 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. More importantly, Ott had cemented his status on the Hawkeye squad as a team leader, on and off the field.
Ott is quick to remind Hawkeye fans that wasn't always the case, however.
“For my first two years here, I think I was known more for my scooter than for football.”
While he hasn't set aside the scooters entirely, these days Ott prefers to use his trucker’s license to drive semis full of grain and ponder life after college. He's said he'd like to return home to take over his family's Nebraska farm. That's if the NFL doesn't come calling first. But more importantly, he's thinking about what happens to the Hawkeyes in the upcoming 2015 season.
“I want to win a Big Ten championship. That's what I really want to get out of this season. I want to finish up by leaving the program better than it is as we start this season. That's what I really want.”
While there are those who are still skeptical of that goal, Ott may not be so far from achieving what he set out to do at Iowa. And if the bounces all go in the Hawkeyes’ direction on the field in the next few months, he may well be looking at the chance he wants most of all – a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Preseason hype and accolades aside, Ott is keeping his eyes on the prize as Iowa gears up for Saturday’s season opener in Kinnick Stadium against a talented Illinois State team.
“It's nice to be honored. But at the end of the day, it's all about what happens in the fall that matters.”
Somewhere up there the old defensive guru himself is smiling, knowing Iowa's defense has been left in good hands for now.
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a native Iowan currently living in Los Angeles. A University of Iowa graduate, Boleyn is a Hawkeye fanatic and former contributing writing for The Daily Iowan. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.