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Iowa football: Hawkeyes trust in Jeff Tarpinian

[ 0 ] August 16, 2010 |

By all indications, Jeff Tarpinian has accrued a wealth of trust while biding his time to become a starter on the Iowa football team.

His teammates elected him a member of the squad’s Leadership Group. If you polled the Hawkeyes on which teammate they’d want dating their sister, quarterback Ricky Stanzi said Tarpinian would be a near-unanimous choice.

“Nicest guy in the world,” Stanzi said. “He’s the most polite kid in the world.”

Smart too. Tarpinian’s coaches are ready to hand him the responsibilities that come with perhaps the most vital position on their defense. They might even let him handle their taxes.

“I wouldn’t mind having him take care of my money,” Iowa linebackers coach Darrell Wilson said. “Maybe he’d make me some more.”

Tarpinian is a fifth-year senior. He’s been an academic All-Big Ten selection the past three years. He’s an accounting major whose course load this spring included classes such as business law for accounting and valuation of financial claims.

“Like anything in life, you’ve got to work at it,” Tarpinian said. “Accounting is something that I definitely have to work at. Numbers can kind of come to some people, but I have to work at it.”

Football is along the same lines for Tarpinian. He said it’s something he has to work at, and for the past two seasons he’s been working for the opportunity to crack the starting lineup for the Hawkeyes, only to run into poorly timed injuries.

But the senior from Omaha said he took every precaution possible to stay healthy for his last, and most important, season at Iowa.

“I did everything I could this summer to make sure my strength and conditioning was up to par and I ate right,” he said. “I made sure I did everything I could to make sure nothing’s going to hold me back.”

Tarpinian is penciled in as Iowa’s starter at Mike linebacker. That’s the position formerly occupied by Abdul Hodge, Mike Klinkenborg and Pat Angerer — all former captains for the Hawkeyes. It’s a position that requires somebody with the size and strength to hold up against the run, the athleticism to take care of responsibilities in pass coverage and the savvy and smarts to get the rest of the defense lined up correctly.

“It’s very important,” Wilson said. “In the past, we’ve had tremendous Mike linebackers, and they have to get you lined up and make the front adjustments and sometimes the secondary adjustments. There’s a lot that goes on, and because he’s smart and he’s picked up on the defense really well, he hasn’t had a problem yet.”

Tarpinian is hardly a run-of-the-mill rookie starter. He’s been a special teams ace throughout his time with the Hawkeyes. He has played all three linebacker positions in Iowa’s defense. He has 50 career tackles and he might have been a starter two years ago if not for a hamstring injury during camp that essentially knocked him out of the race against Jeremiha Hunter for the job at the Will linebacker spot. Iowa’s other two linebacker jobs were occupied by Angerer and A.J. Edds, who were selected in the first four rounds of April’s NFL draft.

“He can flat out play,” Wilson said. “You’ve seen him in the kicking game. Now we’re trying to get him to take the role as a leader.”

For Tarpinian, that means an adjustment in his approach. It means getting a better handle on what the other 10 defenders are doing.

“The younger guys are probably just focusing on their position,” he said. “For me, I’m trying to figure out where exactly the d-end is going to be on every play. I have an idea, but I want to know exactly what they’re supposed to do on every play, so I kind of know everything that’s going on in front of me. That’s my goal for this fall camp.”

Wilson said he’d like to see Tarpinian speak up and take charge of the defense. During the spring, defensive coordinator Norm Parker compared the Mike linebacker to the leader of a band. Wilson reminded Tarpinian to be more assertive during Iowa’s first practice of camp.

It’s his defense now.

“It’s starting to get more and more comfortable just being the guy who makes the calls in the huddle, getting the play in,” Tarpinian said. “It’s just something that takes time. Like anything, you’ve got to work at it, but it’s definitely something that’s more comfortable now than it was in the spring.

“You definitely want to train yourself. You’ve got to make it so all the calls, all the checks you’re making are like breathing. You don’t want to be thinking out there on the field. You want to play and react and be instinctive out there on the field. That’s kind of what you’re shooting for, and that’s what camp is all about — to make it to a point where you can just go out and play and not think about how I’ve got to make this check or this call.”

The Hawkeyes trust Tarpinian to make the right calls.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andy Hamilton: University of Iowa graduate Andy Hamilton is originally from Williams, Iowa, and started at the Des Moines Register in August after 12 years at the Press-Citizen. He covers wrestling for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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