Josey Jewell wasn’t supposed to be here.
The Hawkeyes’ star senior linebacker was about as unheralded of a recruit as it gets. He was a two-star recruit, the 10th best high school prospect from the class of 2013 in the state of Iowa, per 247Sports, out of ten players. He had only one other Division I offer – from Northern Iowa. He committed only a few weeks before signing day.
Four years since his signing, Jewell has been a revelation. With six games left in his senior season, Jewell has 371 career tackles – eighth all time among Hawkeyes. He is only five behind 7th-place Fred Barr (376), and could reasonably challenge to finish his career as high as fourth (Brad Quast, 435). Amongst players of the Kirk Ferentz era, Jewell is already fifth in career tackles. It raises the question: where does Jewell rank amongst the best defensive players during the Ferentz tenure at Iowa?
In his 18 years with the Hawkeyes, Kirk Ferentz has earned a reputation as a head coach with a knack for churning out great offensive linemen, so much so that his ability to develop defensive players often goes overlooked. While the list of Hawkeyes in the pros may read longer on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side, the amount of dominating defensive presences at the college level in the past 18 years has been astounding. Jewell, with his consistent dominating presence on the inside over the past four years, ranks right up with the best of them.
It is hard to compare Jewell, the prototypical middle linebacker, with legends like safety Bob Sanders and defensive ends Matt Roth, and Adrian Clayborn of Ferentz’s time. For the purpose of this comparison, we will limit it to simply linebackers. To compare, let’s use three of the most notable Hawkeye linebackers of the 21st century – Abdul Hodge, Chad Greenway, and Pat Angerer.
Greenway is the most notable of the three due to his long career in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings. He and Hodge together made for one of the most devastating linebacker duos in college football in recent memory. In 2005 the two combined for 314 total tackles – Hodge’s 158 ranks second all time for a Hawkeye in single season tackles, and Greenway’s 156 that year places him right behind at third all time. They were both All-American and All-Big Ten selections. Hodge and Greenway rank 3rd and 5th, respectively, on Iowa’s all-time tackles list. Jewell has a very good shot at passing Greenway’s 416 mark by the end of his career, although Hodge’s 453 number is likely unattainable.
As for Angerer, he did not have the four-year peak that Hodge, Greenway, and Jewell have had due to injuries, but his junior and senior seasons in 2008 and 2009 rank among the best all-time by a Hawkeye defender. He tallied 107 tackles and five interceptions in 2008, and 145 tackles in 2009.
While Jewell may not have the raw single-season numbers to match up with Angerer, Greenway, or Hodge, his longevity as a four-year contributor puts him among those four as one of the best Hawkeye linebackers of the Kirk Ferentz’s era. He has been one of the most disruptive, aggressive, and dominating defensive players of the past four years in college football.
For a two-star guy from small town Decorah, Iowa, it’s tough not to love the story of Josey Jewell. He has proven he’s right where he belongs.