Thursday, April 09, 2015

Weisman's long road will go full circle

By Bill Huber

April 9, 2015

Mark Weisman, who will be moving back to fullback after becoming a star running back at Iowa, boasts eye-popping athleticism and a John Kuhn-like collegiate resume. (Reese Strickland/USA TODAY)

Mark Weisman is a lot of things.

An egomaniac is not among them.

Weisman wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine, so he took full advantage of Iowa’s March 23 pro day. With scouts from all 32 teams in attendance, the Hawkeyes’ rushing leader ran his 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds. Of the 31 running backs who ran the 40 at the Combine, only 12 were faster than Weisman. Moreover ...

— Of the 25 backs to run the three-cone drill at the Combine, only four were faster than Weisman’s 6.88.
— Of the 32 backs who did the broad jump, only four jumped further than Weisman’s 10 feet, 3 inches.
— Of the 26 backs who performed the short shuttle, only nine were faster than Weisman’s 4.17.
— Of the 29 backs who did the vertical jump, only eight jumped higher than Weisman’s 36 inches.

All of that from a 6-foot, 242-pound prospect who will line up at fullback in the NFL.

“I hit my standards for pretty much every drill,” Weisman said in understated fashion.

“I just tried to show my athleticism, that I’m capable of being on special teams, like a kickoff team or a punt team.”

After an all-state senior season at Stevenson High School near his hometown of Buffalo Grove, Ill., Weisman accepted his only offer, to Air Force, which is one of the few college programs in the nation that make extensive use of a fullback.

“I wasn’t going to be a pilot,” Weisman noted.

One humorous anecdote from his time at Air Force was how he passed the rigorous bed inspections.

“They have certain expectations that they have that you know the day before the inspection,” Weisman said. “I’d make the bed perfectly and I’d sleep on the floor that night so I wouldn’t have to remake the bed in the morning.”

Weisman didn’t play at Air Force and, after one semester there, transferred to Iowa, where he redshirted in 2011 as a walk-on. Iowa City was closer to home, a brother attended the school and coach Kirk Ferentz also liked to use a fullback. It seemed like a good fit.

And it was.

Weisman started the first three games of the 2012 season at fullback. But in the third game of the season, fate intervened. Injuries obliterated the tailback position, so Ferentz turned to Weisman, who averaged merely 10.8 yards per rush in his final season at Stevenson.

Weisman took the opportunity and literally ran with it. He became the sixth running back in school history to lead the team in rushing three consecutive seasons and the third to rush for 800-plus yards three consecutive times. He finished his Iowa career with 599 carries for 2,602 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns, figures that rank fourth, sixth and third, respectively, in school history. As a senior, he rushed for 16 touchdowns — third-best in school history.

“I thought about it a little bit after the regular season. It was still kind of surreal at that point,” Weisman said of what had transpired in his career. “It was a great ride. Iowa, Iowa City, the Hawkeye community supported myself and the team tremendously.”

He was pretty good off the field, too. He was a second-team Academic All-American, one of three finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy (best senior to start his career as a walk-on) and was nominated for the prestigious Allstate Good Works Team.

His intelligence should continue to serve him well, especially at a position in which his blocking assignment oftentimes doesn’t play out like it does with the markerboard X’s and O’s.

“You have to be a smart guy, especially at fullback, because everything happens faster because you’re right behind the quarterback,” Weisman said. “You have to make your reads quickly. There are a lot of things at fullback that aren’t perfectly clear. Sometimes, a guy will flash through and you have to block the guy that got through the offensive linemen. You have to be able to think on the fly.”

It’s an easy comparison to see a bit of John Kuhn in Weisman. At Shippensburg, Kuhn rushed for 4,685 yards and 53 touchdowns and was a two-time Academic All-American. Kuhn, of course, moved to fullback in the NFL, and that’s what would Weisman would do, as well.

For Weisman, he’ll have to show he can block — something he hasn’t been asked to do since early in 2012.

“I’ve had questions about it but I played a true fullback before I was moved to running back,” Weisman said. “Yeah, it’s something that teams want to see that I wasn’t able to do later in my career because it wasn’t part of what the coaches wanted me to do at Iowa. In the NFL, I definitely know that’s what I’m going to be doing if I’m lucky enough to make it.”

Weisman will certainly get his shot. If a team is looking for a versatile player in the mold of Pro Bowler Kuhn, Weisman might be No. 1 on their fullback board. Reaching the NFL will cap a remarkable story and bring his winding road full circle — from walk-on fullback to star running back to late-round or undrafted fullback.

“I try not to think about it,” Weisman said. “I just try to live day by day. When that day finally comes, yeah, it’s going to be exciting. Whether it’s being drafted or a free-agent call, it’s exciting just to be given the opportunity to make a team and go to camp and see where everything goes.”

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