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Why Mark Weisman is almost too good to be true

[ 0 ] August 24, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Mark Weisman just wants to be one of the guys. He’s never had a burning desire to be the guy.

“He doesn’t like to be the center of attention,” said Weisman’s father, Larry. “He never has. Which is kind of funny, because he’s become the center of attention.”

The irony arrives Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, when Weisman steps into the spotlight as Iowa’s leading returning rusher in the opener against Northern Illinois.

“It’s crazy,” said the 6-foot, 236-pound junior from Buffalo Grove, Ill. “You dream about it, but sometimes you can’t picture it. You never know the opportunities you’re going to get.”

Mark Weisman and the Iowa Hawkeyes open the season Aug. 31 at home against Northern Illinois. (Rodney White / Register file photo)

Mark Weisman and the Iowa Hawkeyes open the season Aug. 31 at home against Northern Illinois. (Rodney White / Register file photo)

Weisman opened the 2012 season, against the same team, in anonymity. A walk-on fullback and transfer from Air Force, he played on the kickoff return team and had two third-quarter carries for 8 yards in the Hawkeyes’ 18-17 victory at Soldier Field in Chicago.

But after moving to running back out of necessity in the middle of the third game, against Northern Iowa, four straight triple-figure rushing games and eight touchdowns blew his cover. And earned him a scholarship.

“He’s not a look-at-me guy, but you look at him because he draws attention because of what he does so positively,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s a neat story, and he’s a great young guy. He’s a good student on top of it. He’s almost too good to be true.”

A year ago, people in Buffalo Grove would politely ask Larry or his wife, Ilene, what their son Mark was doing. Those questions have ended.

“This whole community is really behind him,” Larry said. “I’m a podiatrist, and I’ve got 90-year-old women who’ve never watched football their entire life watching Iowa Hawkeye football.”

PLAIN AND SIMPLE: HE LOVES FOOTBALL

Mark Weisman is best defined in the simplest of terms — he’s a football player.

“That’s what I do,” Weisman said. “I love football. School and football. That’s what I’m all about right now.”

But that wasn’t always the case. Baseball was his first love. He played on travel teams — a pitcher and shortstop — and batted third. His parents paid for private instruction.

“The story I like to tell is he’s pitching, maybe 10 years old,” Larry said. “And when things didn’t go well, all of a sudden the catcher throws the ball back and I see my son catching it with his bare hand. He’s getting himself a little bit crazed. And I said, “There’s a football player for you.’ ”

It wasn’t until sixth grade that Weisman started to play organized football. Jack Biggio, the father of one of his friends, was his first coach. A few years later, Larry sensed his son’s baseball days were coming to an end.

“He told me, ‘You know, dad, when I go to Stevenson (High School), if I do really well in football I may not go out for baseball,’ ” Larry recalled. “I think he was trying to prepare me for the fall. I said, “Really? After all those travel teams you were on, and all these lessons we gave you for baseball?’ And then I caught myself. I said, “You know what, Mark? I’m your father, not your sports agent. So do whatever you want. Just open up a book every once in a while and study a little bit for us, too.’ ”

When he enrolled at Stevenson as a freshman, Weisman weighed 140 pounds. And then “he started working out like a raging lunatic,” Larry recalled.

His son gained 50 pounds in a year.

“He fell in love with the weight room,” said Bill Mitz, Weisman’s coach at Stevenson and a former Drake player. “He was unmerciful in the weight room. An amazingly hard worker.”

Mitz had a daughter, Jennifer, who attended Iowa and worked in the football office. Mitz got to know Ferentz and the coaches, and started using strength and training coach Chris Doyle’s program.

“Mark has been on Iowa’s strength training program since he was a freshman in high school,” Mitz said.

Mitz noticed Weisman’s work ethic and team-first personality right away.

“He doesn’t boast about anything,” Mitz said. “It’s not, ‘Me, me, me.’ He is a definite team player. He’s the epitome of what it’s all about, you know? Get out there, no nonsense, play hard. An extremely coachable kid. I’m sure Iowa feels like he’s a coach’s dream. He was for me for three years.”

Iowa recruited Weisman, but didn’t have another scholarship available for a fullback. He committed to the Air Force the summer before his senior year. A semester of college later, he was looking for a new home.

Mitz called Lester Erb, then an Iowa assistant who had recruited Weisman, to see if they’d be interested in him as a walk-on. There was a family connection, too. Mark’s older brother, Andy graduated from Iowa.

“(Iowa) just felt right to him,” Larry said. “He said, “Let’s give it a shot.”

Weisman enrolled at Iowa for the second semester of the 2010-11 school year, then had to sit out the 2011 season as a transfer. He entered 2012 as an unknown.

“I just wanted to help the team in any way that I could,” Weisman said. “I just tried to work as hard as I could on the field to see where that took me. All I could control was my effort and intensity out there.”

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Iowa running back Mark Weisman signs autographs at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013. (David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Weisman started the first two games, against Northern Illinois and Iowa State, as a fullback.

“He was blocking for his teammates, which he was perfectly happy with,” Larry said. “And then Game Three came along. And I’ll never forget it.”

WHEN WEISMAN WAS THE “NEXT MAN IN”

Weisman started at fullback against Northern Iowa. But running backs Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon were injured. Next man in.

“There were these three Iowa fans sitting in front of us,” Larry said. ‘And they said, “Your son is up.’ I said, ‘I don’t think that’s true.’ And this guy said, ‘I know everything there is about Iowa football. And I’m telling you, your son is up.’ I looked at my wife and said, ‘Here we go.’ ”

Weisman, who already had scored a first-quarter touchdown as a fullback, added two more as a running back and rushed for 113 yards on 24 carries.

Weisman followed that up with 217 yards and three touchdowns against Central Michigan, 177 yards against Minnesota and 116 yards at Michigan State. Ankle and groin injuries knocked him out of two games and limited him to spot duty in two others, but he finished the season with a team-best 815 yards.

“He didn’t really surprise us, because he’s a kid who’s always overachieved at every level,” Larry said.

A lifelong Chicago Bears fan, Weisman wore a Brian Urlacher jersey as a kid and idolized Walter Payton, even though he only saw him on film. There’s a hill with a 92-foot slope in Arlington Heights, Ill., that Payton made famous by running up it as part of his off-season conditioning.

“It was no easy chore,” Larry said. “Mark has adopted it. When he’s home, he always runs up that hill.”

Escaping anonymity seems tame in comparison, but it was a bigger mountain to climb.
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“How many people at their jobs get to say that 70,000 watch them doing something they love?” Weisman said.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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