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Bryce Miller: What are the odds two cousins could play tight end for the Hawkeyes?

[ 0 ] September 19, 2013 |

What are the odds that a pair of first cousins who grew up in small-town Iowa would end up at the same BCS-level university, playing the same sport … at the same position?

Million-to-1? Billion-to-1?

Who knows — so why not call it a Gajillion-to-1?

“It’s insane,” George Kittle said.

There’s more statistical head-scratching beyond Iowa tight ends Kittle and Henry Krieger-Coble, though, when discussing the true first family of Hawkeye athletics.

Credit the “what are the odds” debates to the late Viven Edmund “Bruisin’ Bub” Krieger of Mount Union. Krieger caught the eye of someone at the University of Iowa, without playing organized football, and was awarded a scholarship.

Two weeks into the semester, Krieger skipped a chance to play with future Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick and hitch-hiked back to the family farm after a bout of unrelenting homesickness.

A black-and-gold seed had been planted, though.

Krieger and his wife, Lugene, raised 10 children — without a son among them — and began a chain reaction that led to a family’s generation upon generation connection to the University of Iowa.

“We joke,” said Lugene, with a hearty laugh, “that we raised corn, beans and girls.”

George Kittle and Henry Krieger-Coble — try to keep all this straight, because there will be a quiz afterward — aren’t even the sole first cousins to play big-time sports in Johnson County.

Another first cousin is Jess Settles, the all-Big Ten basketball player. Another is Brad Carlson, the all-Big Ten first baseman and career home-run record holder for the Hawkeyes.

George’s sister, Emma, walked on to the Iowa volleyball team before transferring to play at Oklahoma when the family relocated there. The reason: Bruce Kittle, the father of George and Emma, was named an assistant football coach for the Sooners.

It should come as little surprise at this point that Bruce is a former Hawkeye, too — one of the captains on Hayden Fry’s team that played in the 1982 Rose Bowl.

“It seemed like the GPS just led everyone to Iowa City,” Settles said.

In another column on another day, it might be possible to walk through the college sports accomplishments of “Bruisin’ Bub’s” daughters — but you get the point.

Now the Iowa City locker room torch has been passed to cousins playing tight end for Kirk Ferentz. Henry is a 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore; George is a 6-4 redshirt freshman.

“It really hit me on signing day when coach Ferentz called,” George said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to play football with my cousin.’”

In the late 1990s, Settles was a part of the basketball program under coach Tom Davis — but would sneak over to the home of Henry’s family, who lived in Iowa City at the time.

It was a chance for a college kid to snag a free meal, while connecting with family just minutes away.

One day, Settles and Henry — probably 3 or 4 years old at the time — wandered to the back yard to play whiffle ball. Settles lobbed the first pitch, then craned his neck as the bail sailed quickly behind him.

“He hit the thing so far on the first pitch that I thought, ‘A kid shouldn’t hit the ball this far,’ ” said Settles, who later helped coach him in basketball when the family landed in Mount Pleasant. “I knew right then that he was special.”

Carlson, now 34, played baseball at Iowa as a stout 6-footer. He’s runs a baseball and softball skills facility called Diamond Dreams in Coralville along with, among others, Brian Mitchell — the former Hawkeye who owned the career homer mark before him.

The “little cousins” are anything but little, though, for Carlson, Settles and the rest of the family.

“Now, it’s me looking up at them because they’ve gotten so big,” Carlson said. “I love telling people, ‘Hey, that’s one of my cousins out there.’<TH>”

Henry was the first to dent the Hawkeye stat books last season as a redshirt freshman, with four catches — including a touchdown against Michigan.

Family competitiveness, though, has allowed George to boast about his own numbers niche. He caught his first career pass in Iowa’s 28-14 win over Missouri State two weekends ago.

One catch into his career, George owns a 47-yard reception average.

“I’ve used that several times,” George said. “If you check the NCAA, I’m like in the top-10 best averages in the country. I’m not trying to brag, but …”

Then, like everyone in the incredibly talented Krieger family tree, a laugh follows.

Almost everyone with a genealogical thread to Bruisin’ Bub can hardly believe the good fortune circling back again, in all its black and gold glory.

What are the odds?

Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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