Nardo taking the long way to stardom


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Tom Nardo made a decision five years ago that confounded Kirk Ferentz.

The defensive lineman's only scholarship offer came from William & Mary of the Football Championship Subdivision. He turned it down and instead traveled the 900-plus miles from his hometown of Lancaster, Pa., to Iowa City to walk on as a Hawkeye.

"I still can't explain that," Ferentz said. "… And if you had given me truth serum when he was here, my thoughts were, why is this guy turning down a scholarship at William & Mary?"

Now a redshirt senior, Nardo's 24 tackles are the fourth-most by a Hawkeye through four games this season.

"I was kind of perplexed by the whole thing, but for whatever reason, it was in his mind to come here," Ferentz said. "We are glad he did."

Nardo introduced himself to Hawkeye fans with a 12-tackle performance against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 24, only his second career start. That earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.

Linebacker Tyler Nielsen said he expects another big game from Nardo against Penn State, a school that didn't even offer him a walk-on spot.

That kind of rejection is "something that Nardo carries with him," Nielsen said.

"He has a chip on his shoulder. That's kind of the mentality and attitude he plays with," Nielsen said. "He came in here and busted his ass for four years, and he's finally getting a shot to get out there and prove himself on the field. He's done a great job."

It's clear after only a few moments that Nardo isn't one to broadcast the chippiness that Nielsen spoke about so passionately. He comes off as soft-spoken and succinct. He sticks to the company lines.

"I'm just trying to help the team and work my hardest," he said after the Monroe game.

But when asked if any players mentored him earlier in his career, he's more outspoken. Nardo immediately mentions Karl Klug, who is now with the Tennessee Titans after graduating last year.

"Karl's always been a guy I looked to and tried to work hard, like he always did," Nardo said.

Nardo apparently succeeded at it. Teammates gush when asked about him, and fellow senior lineman Mike Daniels specifically likened him to Klug for his similarly quiet, yet diligent approach.

"He's quiet," senior corner Shaun Prater said. "But the way he plays, he's so loud."

With glowing reviews of Nardo's tenacity in practice, one might wonder what took him so long to emerge.

Never mind his initial walk-on status; there were good defensive linemen in front of him, including NFL draft picks Klug, Adrian Clayborn, and Christian Ballard.

"It's a little tougher to break into the lineup," Ferentz said. "But that being said, even in August it wasn't obvious to us that he was a starter — otherwise we would have started him in that first game. It's a real tribute to Tom, his work ethic, his perseverance. And once he got the opportunity, his performance has been really good."

Still, Nardo may not receive quite as much playing time as other Iowa D-linemen have in recent years. This year, the Hawkeyes rotate players in and out at an uncharacteristically high rate.

That's fine with Nardo.

"Whatever I can do to help the team," he said. "It's OK with me."

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