Monday, July 30, 2012

Rookie Riley Reiff is a Lion of the future

The Lions' Riley Reiff breaks from the line during training camp in July. / Duane Burleson

By Jeff Seidel

July 30, 2012

Jeff Backus stood behind the Lions' huddle, wearing a brace on his right hand. He was not allowed to practice Sunday morning because of a thumb injury.

Would it have kept him out of a regular-season game? Probably not. Backus is so durable and tough he would still play if his appendix popped out of his belly button.

But the Lions do have an age-old problem on their offensive line; it is, well, getting age-old.

And that is why the Lions drafted Riley Reiff in the first round -- he is an insurance policy in the short term and, they hope, the left tackle of the future.

Backus has started every game for the Lions since 2001, the same year Reiff entered the sixth grade.

And now, Backus is developing into a mentor for this rookie from the University of Iowa.

"He's going to be here and he's going to play a lot of football," Backus said of Reiff. "As much as I can help him, I will. It's just part of my job description now. And I enjoy it."

'Tough, competitive guy'

Reiff is a big country boy from South Dakota. He grew up in a town of about 2,000 and he would rather go fishing than head to a big city with -- you know -- traffic lights.

Reiff is already a big fan of the fishing opportunities in Michigan. About a month ago, Reiff went out with some friends on Lake St. Clair. "We caught a whole bunch of smallmouth," Reiff said. Which, I think, are technically fish, not babes in bikinis still out floating around from the Jobbie Nooner.

"The water in Michigan is beautiful," Reiff said. "It's great fishing."

Before the NFL Combine, some considered Reilly to be a top 15 pick, but he slipped to the Lions at 23 because, some say, he has short arms for a left tackle.

"Reilly is just a hard-nosed, tough, competitive guy," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

Ferentz said he believes the Lions got a steal. Ferentz said that if Reilly would have stayed for his senior year, he would have been a top eight pick. "He is going to get even better as a pro," Ferentz said. "His best football is ahead of him."

Reiff roomed with James Ferentz, the coach's son, for three years at Iowa. He said Reiff liked to do two things: fish and watch game film. When they were freshmen, the two roommates got into a fight. "He killed me," James Ferentz said. "I can't hang with him."

So James Ferentz did the logical thing: He never got into a fight with him again, and he gave Reiff whatever he wanted, including the bottom bunk in their dorm.

"That year was one of the best years of my life," Reiff said.

Reiff turned down a chance to go to New York City for the draft because, well, there are way too many traffic lights. He stayed at his parents' home in South Dakota because his grandfather, Lloyd Reiff, is fighting lung cancer and wasn't doing so good. But he keeps hanging in there.

"My grandfather told me he wanted to make it to the bowl game," Reiff said. "Then, he wanted to make it to the draft. Now, he wants to watch my first pro game."

'A smart guy'

Reiff started training camp working with the third team. He got some snaps with the first team Saturday and worked at right tackle with the second string Sunday. He also played left guard at Iowa.

"He's a smart guy, been well coached," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "He is going through things for the first time, and there is going to be a learning curve for him, but he's doing well."

Reiff was a little overwhelmed during minicamp, but he is starting to feel comfortable.

Even driving around in an area with so many traffic lights.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Browns' special teams try to be special again

By Fred Greetham

July 27, 2012

As the Browns prepare to embark upon their second season under Pat Shurmur there are many questions that remain. With training camp opening this coming week, we’ve taken a position-by-position analysis of the current roster as the team heads to camp.

This is the last part as we take a look at the specialists.

Candidates: Phil Dawson, Reggie Hodges, Christian Yount, Jeff Wolfert and Spencer Lanning.

It wasn’t too long ago that the strongest part of the Browns was their special teams. With Phil Dawson kicking, Dave Zastudil or Reggie Hodges doing the punting and Ryan Pontbriand handling the long-snapping.

However, last year under first year special teams coach Chris Tabor, the Browns special teams took a step back in several areas. Hodges tore his Achilles in training camp. Pontbriand—who had made the Pro Bowl as a long-snapper—seemingly lost his touch with bad snaps in 2011 costing the Browns a couple of games. He was quickly released.

Dawson had another stellar season and was franchised for the second-straight season, indicating the 14-year kicker is one of the most valuable players on the Browns. Dawson is on pace to eclipse many Browns franchise records if he plays a couple more seasons in Cleveland.

In addition to the specialists, Josh Cribbs was hampered by injuries and had a sub-par season in returning kickoffs and punt returns.

Phil Dawson (5-11, 200, 14th year, Texas) – Dawson is the second-leading scorer in team history with 1,155 points behind only Lou Groza. Dawson despite being 37-years old has not slowed down. In 2011, Dawson kicked seven field goals for 50 or more yards, which tied an NFL record. His career field goal accuracy is 83.1 percent, highest in Browns history and 10th best in NFL history. In 2011, Dawson hit 24-of-29 attempts and 20-of-20 PATs for a total of 92 points.

Jeff Wolfert (6-2, 185, 1st year, Missouri) – Wolfert was in camp last season and is back to give Dawson a break from some of the kicking in training camp.

Reggie Hodges (6-0, 220, 6th year, Ball State) – Hodges returns after rupturing his Achilles tendon in training camp last season and sidelining him for the entire season. Richmond McGee started the season but also was injured and veteran Brad Maynard steadied the ship for the bulk of the season. The Browns are hoping Hodges returns the form he showed in 2010 when he was ranked 9th in the NFL in punting with a 43.9 average. Maynard was last in yards per punt 40.5 in 2011. In addition, Hodges is a good holder for Dawson.

Spencer Lanning (5-11, 1st year, South Carolina) – Since Hodges is coming off of a major injury, Lanning is in camp as insurance that Hodges is able to perform.

Christian Yount (6-1, 256, 2nd year, UCLA) – Yount joined the Browns after Ryan Pontbriand imploded after 11 games and played the final five games as the team’s long snapper. He handled the long snapping duties for Tampa Bay for the first seven games of the season after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent. Yount handled the final five games flawlessly. Bad snaps cost the Browns two games in 2011 and Pontbriand was recently cut by the 49ers and former Browns special teams coach Brad Seely.

Better than 2011?: Dawson has been as steady a player as the Browns have had and the return of Hodges should improve the field position game. The Browns also lost two games in 2011 due to bad snaps and Young came in and was nearly flawless once he took over.

Josh Cribbs should be able to return to what he does best and that is covering kickoffs and returning kicks. Trying to get Cribbs back to an elite level is a top priority.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mike Stoops Return Could Return Sooners To National Title Glory

By Zack Poff

July 25, 2012

Oklahoma is the final team on this list. They have a ton of talent, but it all starts with their senior quarterback, Landry Jones. Despite throwing for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns last season, Jones struggled down the stretch for the Sooners. After starting 6-0, Oklahoma finished 3-3 in their final six regular season games. Landry Jones is one of the favorites to contend for the Heisman Trophy entering his senior season.

Junior tailback, Dominique Whaley, was one of the best stories in college football last season. The walk-on led Oklahoma in rushing through six games before suffering a broken ankle against Kansas State and was shut down for the rest of the season.

Now that Bob Stoops has given Whaley a scholarship, the junior can finally quit his part-time job making sandwiches at Subway and focus on football. He will be the main cog in the rushing attack for Oklahoma heading into 2012. The Sooners also brought in two talented freshmen recruits in Alex Ross and David Smith to add depth to the backfield. Oklahoma also added a very talented back in Damien Williams, a junior college transfer from Arizona Western.

The Sooners also return Roy Finch, who rushed for 605 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Oklahoma's bread and butter is on the offensive line. They only allowed 11 sacks last season and will make Landry Jones job upright most of the season. A great offensive line is always one of the most underrated aspects of the game and Oklahoma returns four of their five starters.

The Sooners struggled mildly last season when their star wideout Ryan Broyles went down with a torn ACL. It will be crucial for Oklahoma's receiving corps to step up now that Broyles' Oklahoma career is over. He will be a tough guy to replace after becoming the all-time receptions leader in FBS history. Junior, Kenny Stills, will be the main cog in the passing attack. He finished with 849 yards and eight touchdowns.

Juniors Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks were expected to be main pieces for Oklahoma's passing attack, but have been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. It will be crucial for Reynolds and Franks to get their acts together if Oklahoma wants to compete for the Big 12 Championship and contend for the national championship.

Mike Stoops returns as the new defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and will have the task of restoring the Sooners suffocating defense. Stoops was a co-defensive coordinator for Oklahoma in 2000, when they won their last BCS National Championship against Florida State. That defense did not allow one point from an explosive Seminole's offensive unit.

In four of the five seasons while Mike Stoops was on Oklahoma's staff, the Sooner's also finished in the top ten in total defense. The guy knows how to coach defense.
Oklahoma has struggled mildly in the past, finishing outside of the top 50 in total defense during three of the last four seasons.

Junior linebacker, Tom Wort is the defensive quarterback for Oklahoma heading into 2012. He had 71 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season, and will have an even bigger role this year. Expect Corey Nelson, who racked up up 59 tackles and 5.5 sacks and will see time at linebacker and safety this season, to step up in his junior campaign..

Oklahoma returns three starters from their secondary. Senior defensive back, Demontre Hurst, a Second Team All-Big 12 selection, is the main cog. Hurst had 55 tackles last season to go with one interception and 11 pass breakups. Junior, Aaron Colvin, is one of the most talented defensive backs in the country.

He led Oklahoma with 84 tackles last season and is one of the top tackling corners in the nation. Tony Jefferson is a guy to pay close attention to this season. He spent his first year and most of his sophomore campaign playing linebacker for Oklahoma, but moved to safety during the tail end of last season. He is expected to start in the secondary this year. Jefferson was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010 and is coming off a good sophomore season. He finished with 74 tackles, four interceptions, 4.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss last year.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Training Camp Sleepers to Watch: Tyler Nielsen

Tyler Nielsen is viewed as one of the best undrafted free agents from the 2012 NFL Draft.

By Mike Nelson

July 25, 2012

Despite his undrafted status, Tyler Nielsen has a legitimate opportunity to make Minnesota’s 2012 roster.

Sports Illustrated projected him as a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick. Yahoo! Sports blogger Doug Farrar named Nielsen as one of the 18 best undrafted players on the defensive side of the ball.

He's a talented player with NFL skills.

Nielsen is a tall (6’3”) linebacker who started all 12 games of his senior season at Iowa and the eight games he was healthy for his junior season.

It sounds as if his style of play will fit right in with the Vikings: He's strong against the run and struggles against the pass.

Don’t look for Nielsen to come near serious playing time in 2012, but given the lack of depth at the position, he should have every opportunity to make the 2012 active roster.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Riley Reiff ready to give Detroit Lions instant contribution wherever needed

Detroit Lions rookie offensive lineman Riley Reiff thanked team president Tom Lewand for helping to get his deal done this morning during a press conference on Monday.

By Anwar S. Richardson

July 23, 2012

Detroit Lions first-round pick Riley Reiff officially signed with the team on Monday, and was at the team's practice facility this morning.

Reiff, along with rookies and injured players, were required to show up today, but there was no media access for any of those sessions.

Instead, Reiff spoke about his new contract, and competing for a starting position, during his press conference today. Below is the majority of Reiff's media session:

Q: How important was it to get this deal done and get into camp on time?
A: It was really important. I wanted to be here when the rookies reported. It got done. I want to thank my agent (Neil Cornrich), Tom Lewand, and the Ford Family for getting it done.

Q: Was there any doubt that it would get done?
A: I don't know. I just listen to my agent. He told me it was ready to sign, and I signed it. I'm happy to be here, and I'm glad to be here.

Q: When did you get into town?
A: I got in last night.

Q: What were you thinking about on that drive?
A: Just getting ready mentally to get in here and start working again. Just thinking about some stuff.

Q: Did you have a good feeling it was going to get done this morning?
A: Yeah. I head some things that it possibly might get done. Like I said, I'm happy it got done this morning.

Q: With what has happened with this team in the offseason, like Aaron Berry getting released, what are your thoughts about stepping into this environment now?
A: I just worry about myself and trying to help the team anyway I can. I know we got some great veterans here. They're great leaders. I try to take after them, their work ethic, and the time they put in.

Q: Do you look forward to the competition this week?
A: I'm just coming in here getting ready to work, putting in the plays, film sessions and stuff, and trying to help the team out anyway I can.

Q: What would it mean to you to start in week one?
A: Like I said, if I do, or if I don't, I'm just here to work right now and put in the time.

Q: How much better of a football player are you now than when you stepped on this field for rookie minicamp? How important was the offseason program for you?
A: It helped out a lot, getting to work with the coaches, the veterans, the strength coaches. I think getting better, and continuing to work. I still got to get better.

Q: What's your sense of how much guard you will play in camp, and how much right versus left tackle?
A: I really don't know. I'm just here to work hard. Wherever I can help the team, I'll help the team.

Q: Did you play any guard in the spring here?
A: No.

Q: Have they talked to you at all about playing some guard this fall?
A: Not yet.

Q: Is there a part of you that looks forward to blocking for Matthew Stafford, a rising star in this league?
A: Absolutely. Football is what I love to do. Blocking for a great quarterback like Matt, or whatever, any chance I can get to help the team, I'm going to try to do it as hard as I can, and as well as I can.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Riley Reiff signs, will report to Lions today

July 23, 2012

By Dave Birkett

The Detroit Lions signed first-round pick Riley Reiff to a four-year contract today, according to a post on the team’s website.

Reiff, the Lions’ last remaining unsigned draft pick, will report with other rookies and injured players today. Training camp starts later this week.

The 23rd overall pick in April’s draft, Reiff, an offensive lineman from Iowa, appeared close to a deal Sunday, when his father, Tom Reiff, said Riley was on his way to Michigan.

With four-year contracts for all draft picks and a mostly slotted pay scale, the only hold-up had been how much guaranteed money the Lions would give Reiff in the fourth year of the deal.

Terms of Reiff’s contract, which should total about $8 million, weren’t immediately available. His agent, Neil Cornrich, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Last year’s 23rd overall pick, Danny Watkins, got a $4.27-million signing bonus with a $100,000 reporting bonus in his fourth year but no guaranteed money beyond the first three seasons. Watkins missed the start of camp with a brief holdout.

This year, No. 21 overall pick Chandler Jones had about half of his $1.5 million fourth-year base salary guaranteed, while 26th overall pick Whitney Mercilus got only the first three years guaranteed.

With Reiff under contract, nine first-round draft picks remain unsigned.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mike Vrabel to be inducted into Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Current Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel is among the 11 inductees in the 2012 Hall of Fame class.

July 19, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Eleven outstanding former student-athletes will be enshrined into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame this fall. The class will be inducted Sept. 14 at a dinner and will be introduced to the public at halftime of the Ohio State home football game against California Sept. 15.

The 2012 class includes Louise Bond-Williams (fencing), Pete Cusick (football), Jessica Davenport (basketball),George Downes (wrestling), Joseph Gailus (football), Ray Griffin (football), Rex Holman (wrestling), Keturah Lofton (track and field), Dick Schafrath (football), Jim Stone (volleyball coach) and Mike Vrabel (football).

The hall of fame was created in 1977 and has inducted 261 men through fall of 2011. The addition of Cusick, Gailus, Griffin, Schafrath and Vrabel moves the all-time number of former football players in the hall to 108 and the prestigious list will now include 11 wrestlers with the inclusion of Downes and Holman.

Women were first inducted into the hall in 1993, with 96 women enshrined through 2011. Lofton is the ninth inductee for track and field, with Davenport the 10th women’s basketball honoree and Bond-Williams the fifth female fencer to be enshrined. Stone is the fourth former women’s coach to receive a spot in the hall of fame.

Reservations are now being accepted for the Athletics Hall of Fame Dinner Sept. 14, which will be a joint dinner for the men and women for the first time. The event will be held in the Archie M. Griffin Ballroom at the Ohio Union and begins at 5:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails; dinner will follow at 6:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $75, with tables of eight available for $600. Payment will not be accepted at the door; reservations and payment must be submitted by Aug. 31.


Mike Vrabel

Football, 1993-96

Current Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel was one of the great defensive linemen not only at Ohio State, but in the history of the Big Ten Conference. He earned two Big Ten Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year honors (1995 and 1996) and was the first to win the award two times. He also earned back-to-back All-America honors those same seasons.

Vrabel twice set the Ohio State single-season record for sacks and tackles for loss (TFL) and he still holds school records for career sacks (36) and single season and career TFLs (26 in 1995 and 66).
He ranks third all-time in the Big Ten in sacks and sixth in TFLs.

Vrabel had a distinguished NFL career with three teams following his Ohio State playing days. It was a professional career that saw him a part of the New England Patriots’ dynamic run of three Super Bowls in four years (2001, 2003, 2004). In 2007, as a member of the Patriots, he was named to the Pro Bowl and a month later was named All-Pro. On top of these accomplishments, Vrabel’s professional career included 206 games played with Pittsburgh, New England and Kansas City, 140 starts and enough impressive statistics – 57 sacks, 11 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles and 11 touchdowns receiving (as a tight end), including two in Super Bowls – that one has to conclude he is one of the great performers in a team sport that Ohio State has ever produced.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rookie signings brisk in '12, but 14 first rounders unsigned

By Nate Davis, USA TODAY

July 17, 2012

NFL training camps begin throwing open their doors next week, but there's still some business to be taken care of.

Of the 32 2012 first-round draft picks, 14 remain unsigned. That group includes No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, No. 2 choice Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins, and the six other players taken in the top quartile of Round 1.

RGIII is barred by the collective bargaining agreement from attending the Redskins' rookie camp this week unless he inks a deal.

Still, the pace of draft signings this offseason has been brisk under the new CBA, which essentially leads to salary slotting. The incoming players atop the draft don't cash in nearly as well -- Cam Newton, No. 1 in 2011, signed a four-year, $22 million deal one year after Sam Bradford received a six-year, $78 million windfall -- but the lack of wiggle room in negotiations has gotten the newcomers into their playbooks much faster.

In the even bigger picture, 217 of this year's 253 draftees had signed by the end of June. In the previous seven years, by comparison, 377 players signed by June 30, an average of 63 annually (discounting the 2011 lockout).

As far as first rounders:

• By June 20, 18 had signed this year
• After the new CBA was agreed to, ending last year's lockout July 25, all 32 signed between July 27 and Aug. 4
• In 2010, the last offseason under the previous CBA, none signed before July 22
• In 2009, only top pick Matthew Stafford (who was able to negotiate prior to the draft) and No. 5 choice Mark Sanchezwere signed prior to July 25; Michael Crabtree held out until October

Neil Cornrich, though he represents Detroit Lions rookie Riley Reiff (one of this year's unsigned first rounders), says the new CBA has created a less acrimonious atmosphere between agents, their players and teams.

"The process has clearly been smoother. Last year was smooth, and this year the waters have calmed even more," Cornrich says.

"I think it's good for the players and good for the teams to have the deal done earlier. It grows their relationship rather than having to beat each other up."

And optimism seems to remain high that Luck, Griffin III, Reiff and their peers will all arrive in camp on time.

2012 Round 1 rookies still without contracts:
• 1. Andrew Luck, Colts
• 2. Robert Griffin III, Redskins
• 3. Trent Richardson, Browns
• 4. Matt Kalil, Vikings
• 5. Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
• 6. Morris Claiborne, Cowboys
• 7. Mark Barron, Buccaneers
• 8. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
• 11. Dontari Poe, Chiefs
• 20. Kendall Wright, Titans
• 22. Brandon Weeden, Browns
• 23. Riley Reiff, Lions
• 24. David DeCastro, Steelers

Iowa's Dallas Clark Inducted Into SB Nation College Football Hall Of Fame

By Brandon Larrabee

July 16, 2012

You know him now as one of the (former) key targets for the Indianapolis Colts' (former) quarterback Peyton Manning, but Dallas Clark was also a pretty big deal in college when he played for the Iowa Hawkeyes. And while we'll have to wait to see if he gets into the NFL Hall of Fame, he's already a member of the SB Nation College Football Hall of Fame.

As our Iowa blog, Black Heart Gold Pants, told us in an email:

From spindly walk-on linebacker to all-everything tight end in four years? If there's a more quintessential "rags to riches" story in Iowa history, I can't think of one. Clark arrived as an overlooked and forgotten walk-on from a small town in Iowa. Four years later, as a junior, he earned a closet full of awards and All-America honors and left as one of the most respected, beloved, and dynamic tight ends in Iowa history. Clark was a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, a tight end with soft hands who could stretch the field. He was too quick for linebackers to cover, but too big and physical for safeties to slow down. He only had one truly standout season (2002), but symbolically, there were few players that better represent what Iowa football is and has been.

Clark won an impressive 91 percent of the vote in our fan poll. He joins Alabama's Ozzie Newsome in the inaugural class of tight ends.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Yanda will help anchor line

July 5, 2012

By Jeff Seidel

There’s a lot of questions involving the offensive line heading into training camp in the coming weeks. But one thing that’s for sure involves right guard Marshal Yanda.

Yanda’s clearly broken through and grown into a top-level offensive lineman. The Ravens will have returning players like veterans Matt Birk, Bryant McKinnie, Michael Oher and others, but Yanda’s improved and moved up to another level.

He’s grown into a powerful, physical, punishing guard who’s really become something important to the Ravens on the line. Yanda made the Pro Bowl last season and showed some of that when battling through some late-season injuries to play against the Bengals.

Yanda had been dealing with painful thigh and rib injuries, leaving him in lots of discomfort. The Ravens were not sure if he’d be able to play in that game. Coach John Harbaugh said he just didn’t know if Yanda would be able to go. But he did, and Ray Rice scored on an early 70-yard run – with Yanda throwing the key block.

“There’s not a tougher player I’ve been around in 27 years of coaching,” Harbaugh said in an article on the team’s web site.

But Yanda wants more in 2012. The offensive line has plenty of questions this year. Yanda said a few weeks ago that he’s confident in the depth there and that they’ll make it work.

However, he’ll be driven also by the painful loss to the Pats in the AFC title game. When talking to John Eisenberg earlier this spring, Yanda admitted how that is still a tough one to get over.

“It’s still in the back of our minds,” Yanda said. “That was a tough loss. That was the toughest loss I’ve ever had to deal with, tenfold. I’ve never lost a game like that, so it was really tough. It’s one of those ones where you’ll never forget.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stoops' record worth boasting about

By John Shinn

July 12, 2012

NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer are in a fraternity unto themselves.

They are the only active coaches at FBS schools with career winning percentages greater than .800.

Stoops has a 139-34 career record (80.3 percent) during 13 seasons, and all of them have been at Oklahoma.

Meyer is 104-23 during 10 seasons at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. This will be his first season at Ohio State.

OU also has another major claim to fame: it is the only FBS school with three coaches with career winning percentages at more than .800. Barry Switzer (157-29-4) finished his career with a .837. Winning percentage. Bud Wilikinson (145-29-4) had a .826. career winning percentage.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Colts’ Rucker speaks to youth

July 11, 2012


BAZETTA - Heading into the final corner of a lap around the football field, the Lakeview Little Bulldogs received encouragement from an inspiring source - a professional football player.

Warren G. Harding graduate and current Indianapolis defensive back Chris Rucker skipped along while cheering on stragglers to finish off the lap.

It was a part of a special meeting with the Little Bulldogs program for the Colt to speak to the players.

Warren native and Colts player Chris Rucker talks to the Little Bulldogs Tuesday.

"I remember as a kid, it always felt good to have somebody that you looked up to or someone that you wanted to be like come talk to you," Rucker said. "It was definitely a confidence booster. I know it will go a long way in their futures."

The former Michigan State Spartan spoke to the team and fielded questions from the players - including his thoughts on new Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. He also signed autographs and took photos with the players and their families after the question and answer segment.

He advised them about life, telling the kids to work hard in school and sports, as well as to never give up or allow someone to tell them to give up.

The players paid close attention to his words and seemed excited by the presence of a professional football player.

"He gave us a lot of good advice and stuff for us to follow in his footsteps as much as we could," said Brandon Rizzo, 11, a member of the 140-pound team.

This was the second day in a row that Rucker spoke to children. The former Michigan State Spartan took part in Mario Manningham's camp in Warren the day before.

Rucker came after a father of a player asked his mother, a co-worker, if he would talk to the team.

He didn't hesitate and said he would love to talk to the children.

"A lot of these people either don't have the time, don't want to come or they try and charge you," coach Brandon Warner, 36, said. "(Rucker) just came of his own free will."

For Rucker, it is a somewhat of a weird feeling to be in this situation.

At only 23 years old, the cornerback completed his rookie season where he exceeded expectations.

The Colts drafted Rucker in the sixth round, becoming the 45th defensive back taken in that round. Of those 45 players, only 11 recorded 10 tackles in their rookie season and only four were starters in their rookie season.

Rucker accomplished both for the Colts despite suffering a 2-14 record. He amassed 36 tackles and starting four games at corner back for the Colts.

"It feels a little weird, but it comes with the territory," Rucker said. "Playing as a professional athlete, you have a lot of young people who look up to you, so when you have that opportunity, you have to take advantage of it."

Although it might be weird for him, he and Warner said this meant a lot to the Little Bulldog players.

"Coming from me, they love to hear, coming from their parents, they love to hear it, but when it comes from an NFL football player, it gives me something," Warner said. "I can just reiterate what (Rucker) said and remind them.

"I guarantee (that) when somebody's running around, and you'll watch them start to slow up and take off when I remind them he came to talk to them."

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Clark Joins America Needs Farmers Effort

Clark was a first-team all-America for the 2002 Iowa football team that won the Big Ten Conference championship and advanced to the 2003 FedEx Orange Bowl.

Former Hawkeye has high respect for farmers and their values

July 2, 2012

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa - Dallas Clark, a small-town Iowa boy who's made it big in the National Football League, is teaming up with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and the University of Iowa Athletics Department to promote the America Needs Farmers (ANF) campaign.

It's all about Iowa pride for Clark.

"I really respect and have a lot of pride in the values that farmers have, and the values of Iowa and the values of community, and that's what Farm Bureau represents," said Clark, an all-American tight end at the UI who will begin his 10th season in the NFL this fall as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I'm thrilled to be part of this initiative and believe in the importance of farming and the effects it has on our communities and the world," added Clark, who Clark was named first team all-America after a brilliant 2002 season during which Clark was the winner of the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end, and the Hawkeyes went undefeated in Big Ten Conference play and advanced to the 2003 FedEx Orange Bowl.

Clark joins an impressive list of former Hawkeye players who support ANF, a campaign launched by the UI's legendary head coach Hayden Fry in 1985 during the Farm Crisis. The ANF emblem is displayed on Hawkeye football players' helmets today as it was during the Hawkeyes' '85 Rose Bowl season and the seasons.


"I'm thrilled to be part of this initiative and believe in the importance of farming and the effects it has on our communities and the world."
Dallas Clark


With most people two to three generations removed from the family farm, IFBF and UI joined forces last fall to promote the ANF message and talk to consumers about the food, fuel and fiber raised by farmers. The ANF campaign continues to create excitement with the 2012 Hawkeye football season drawing closer.

• ANF, Iowa football players and farmers will be featured at Farm Bureau Park, located on the Grand Concourse at the Iowa State Fair, Aug. 9-19. Visitors can register for prizes, play games and learn more about farming.

• "ANF Day at Kinnick" will be held Oct. 20 at the Iowa versus Penn State night game. The day will feature pre-game events featuring Iowa farmers and an autograph session with former Hawkeye greats.

• Kinnick Stadium visitors can see ANF Plaza and the Wall of Fame, located between the stadium's west grandstand and the north grandstand.

• Officially licensed ANF merchandise is for sale at Farm Bureau members can take advantage of special discounts throughout the year at

The website features fun facts, trivia, ANF events and comments from former University of Iowa football players who proudly wore the ANF on their game helmets during their playing days at the UI.

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