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Harty: Running backs battle injuries, adversity

[ 0 ] April 1, 2012 |

There is no denying that Iowa running backs have had an unusually high rate of adversity over the past decade, the latest example being Jordan Canzeri’s knee injury.

And with adversity often comes attrition.

Since 2002, at least 13 Iowa running backs either have quit the team or been dismissed from it with eligibility remaining.

Injuries also have been a problem for Iowa running backs but not to the extent that some might think.

By my count, Canzeri is only the second Iowa running back since 2005 to suffer a serious knee injury, or more specifically a torn anterior cruciate ligament. It happened twice to Jewel Hampton, including against Arizona in the third game of the 2010 season.

Iowa fans are sensitive about knee injuries, caused in large part by the bizarre 2004 season when four Iowa running backs suffered torn ACLs, including starter Jermelle Lewis.

Fortunately, the 2004 season was an aberration more than the start of a disturbing pattern.

One serious knee injury is too many, but in the harsh reality of football, three in six years hardly qualifies as an outbreak or as a reason to be paranoid about the Iowa running backs. Especially considering two happened to the same player in Hampton.

It’s definitely not a reason to question how the Iowa running backs are trained. I bring that up only because it’s been suggested since Canzeri was injured last Wednesday that Iowa running backs are injury prone because of how they train.

The truth is football players, especially running backs, are injury prone because the game is incredibly violent.

The Department of Sports Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh studied 332 players at the 2005 National Football Combine. More than half had had knee injuries and 86 of the players had had knee surgery. The study concluded one-fourth of all college players had surgery to repair damaged knees.

In the case of the Iowa running backs, it’s important to separate attrition from injuries because injuries had little or nothing to do with why most of the 13 left the team early.

You could argue that injuries contributed to Hampton’s early departure and had a similar effect on Mika’il McCall, who quit the team this winter after an injury-plagued freshman season.

But there have been way more cases of an Iowa running back self-destructing because of his behavior, or alleged behavior, than because of his body breaking down.

That’s even true with McCall, who was suspended from the team before he quit it.

Most of the running backs left early because of academic deficiencies, legal woes or personal problems. Some left simply because they weren’t good enough to climb up the depth chart.

So it’s not a curse, but rather the Iowa running backs who are mostly to blame for the adversity.

Now if you want to blame somebody else, perhaps the Iowa coaches need to do more thorough background checks before offering scholarships to running backs.

However, the problem with that is you’re discriminating against one position and it’s impossible to know how a kid will act after he moves away from home for the first time in his life.

Maybe the Iowa coaches did take risks with some of the running backs who left early. But it’s hard to believe they would miss any obvious red flags.

The position itself might have something to do with the high rate of attrition because in most cases, if you’re not the man at running back, you’re on the bench. Iowa has alternated running backs at times, including throughout the 2009 season. But it’s usually one guy that carries the load.

So in summary, it’s fair to say the Iowa running backs have dealt with more than their share of adversity. But it’s also fair to say they’ve caused most of it.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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