IOWA CITY — For the past four years, Jack Campbell has joined the hands of his teammates and they take to the field together before the start of every football game in Iowa.
As is tradition, the senior linebacker will enter Kinnick Stadium on his own Friday.
He will be one of 27 Hawkeye seniors to be introduced ahead of the 3 p.m. game against Nebraska, taking a final trot on the turf in an Iowa uniform.
Coach Kirk Ferentz and family members will be in midfield to congratulate everyone on completing the race, a group that has helped the Hawkeyes win more than 71% of their games over the past five seasons.
“Being able to be teeming with boys in your fourth and fifth years really means a lot,” Campbell said. “I never really thought it was my last time, but it’s going fast and I’ll cherish every moment.”
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With a chance to win a second straight Big Ten West Division championship in the Heroes Game match against the Cornhuskers, Campbell is determined to turn his attention to being ready for his final game at Kinnick Stadium.
“I’m going to focus on the things that I need to focus on,” Campbell said. “But at the same time I will enjoy it. I will hug my parents and let them know and thank them for everything they have done for me.”
A finalist for the Butkus Award, awarded to college football’s top linebacker, and the William V. Campbell Trophy, awarded to the top student-athlete at all levels of college football, Campbell leads the Big Ten in tackles and in many ways.
“He sets the example that we all follow,” said Sebastian Castro, Iowa Defense Attorney. “On the field, off the field, if you do things the way Jack Campbell does, you’ll put yourself in a pretty good position.”
Campbell had 10 or more tackles in seven games during the 7-4 season at Iowa, and with 110 stops this season, he has risen from 81st to 20th on the Hawkeyes’ career tackle charts.
His approach remains humble and Campbell shares his success with his teammates, coaches and staff, including academic advisors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning staff.
“You all make such a difference and have helped me become the person I am,” Campbell said.
Time created an additional bond with the other senior linebacker in the Iowa lineup, Seth Benson.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Campbell said. “One of the most determined guys, loves to prove people wrong. He pushed me day in and day out and he will have my utmost respect for the rest of my life.”
Underclassmen appreciate leadership throughout the senior class.
“There are some great leaders in this group,” said sophomore Lukas Van Ness, listing Campbell and Benson on the linebacker spots, John Wagoner and Joe Evans on the defensive line, and Riley Moss and Kaevon Merriweather on the secondary.
“You go ahead. More than anything else, they set standards. Coach (Kelvin) Bell has a quote that says you need a model, not a critic. These seniors are role models. They show us the way… and that’s why we’ve been able to produce these last four, five weeks.”
Ferentz said collectively that this was a significant contribution from this year’s senior class.
“You have guys that are pretty well known, household names in our state, but you also have a lot of other guys that might not be as well known, but they’re all very valuable,” Ferentz said.
“You have Jack Campbell making a big play but you also have a guy like Tom Hartlieb who did a great job on the scout team for four years and helped us prepare. Everyone has a role and if you want to have a good football team, you have a lot of people filling those roles.
And this year’s senior class dealt with it.
They were part of 10-Win teams in 2019 and 2021 and helped the program navigate a racial prejudice investigation in the summer of 2020, a year in which COVID-19 first canceled and then delayed an abbreviated season and players underwent daily testing to the corona virus.
They’ve had a lot of good things, winning a Big Ten West Division title in 2021 and stepping onto the field on Friday close to doing that again and earning a second straight Big Ten title spot.
And they’ve struggled through a 3-4 start to the current season and criticism that has come with the team’s slow offensive start this fall.
All of this has shaped the group of seniors who will be recognized on Friday.
“We’ve been through a lot together, going back to 2020 and everything that was last year,” said quarterback Spencer Petras. “Last year, this year we went through a lot but I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to be with.”
The majority of the 27 seniors being honored have an additional year of eligibility available due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ferentz said those discussions and decisions will be made once the regular season is over.
“Now go and be honored. They deserve it,” Ferentz said.