Weisman a staple since Northern Iowa in 2012

BY DANNY PAYNE | AUGUST 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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Mark Weisman never thought it would happen. He never thought he’d be Iowa’s leading rusher during his sophomore and junior seasons. He never thought he’d garner nearly 1,800 yards and 16 touchdowns in 23 games. Weisman never even thought he’d play tailback.

Yet here he is, two years later, entering his senior year, set to play the Hawkeyes’ opener against Northern Iowa, the team the Buffalo Grove, Illinois, native burst on the scene against in 2012.

During that game — a 27-16 Hawkeye victory — Damon Bullock suffered a concussion and Greg Garmon went down with an elbow injury, which meant Iowa was out of usable running backs. So head coach Kirk Ferentz threw the Air Force transfer into the fire.

“I think we had two guys get knocked out during the game. One knocked out literally, and then another elbow problem, so Mark kind of got thrust on the scene,” Ferentz said. “Two years ago, we weren’t sure if we had a Big Ten running back. We found out we did.”

In that contest, Weisman carried the ball 24 times, scored three times, and amassed 113 yards on the ground. It was the Hawkeyes’ first win that year, and they finished with 201 rushing yards.

“[Ferentz] always talks about the next man in, so he was the next man in, and he did a tremendous job,” Iowa offensive lineman Austin Blythe said Sept. 15, 2012. “He just puts his head down and runs the ball.”

As Blythe said, the converted fullback ran like a fullback in that game. That bruising style of play has been his trademark, of sorts.

There was the play against Nebraska last season, when the six-foot, 240-pound back ran through — not over, or around, but through — four Cornhusker defenders for a 12-yard score. That’s one of many that come to memory.

His stardom first peaked in 2012, when, after four-straight 100-plus rushing yard games, the “Weisman 4 Heisman” campaign took flight. Following the game against Northern Iowa, Weisman’s stat lines read as follows:

• Against Central Michigan: 227 yards, 3 touchdowns.
• Against Minnesota: 177 yards, 1 touchdown.
• Against Michigan State: 116 yards, 1 touchdown.

He dropped off a bit after that, partly because of nagging ailments. But since then, Weisman has become a staple in the Iowa backfield.

He rushed for more than 100 yards four times in 2013. He shouldered most of the workload, too, carrying the ball 227 times — which was 100 times more than Bullock, who was second in that category for Iowa.

It’s a possibility the number of carries he gets will decrease this season; Jordan Canzeri came on at the end of last season while Weisman declined because his running style lends itself to taking such a tough beating each time out.

Ferentz said he wants to keep him fresh for the fourth quarter, but that remains to be seen.

Still, even now — after the fame he’s earned and bruising hits he’s taken — even Weisman admits that the Iowa football team might have looked a lot different from what it does now had those injuries not happened two years ago.

“I just figured I’d be playing fullback [when I transferred from Air Force],” Weisman said. “I love doing that, too, but crazy things happen, and I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to play tailback.”

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