SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The Hawkeyes said they moved on quickly. They were convincing.
Iowa might not play well in Tuesday’s Insight Bowl. If so, it likely be will because Missouri outperforms their Big Ten opponents. A well-publicized arrest and unfound rumors of drug use throughout the team earlier this month won’t submarine this bunch, they say.
“The guys that are here now, it really didn’t affect us because we had nothing to do with it,” Senior Defensive End Adrian Clayborn said. “We just got back to business, got back to football. There are a lot of guys on this team with good character.
“The rumors were going, but let‘s be honest, they‘re just rumors. People know our character, my character, coach (Kirk) Ferentz‘s character. Things like that won‘t go around on this team.”
Iowa began the season ranked ninth by the Associated Press. The Hawkeyes rolled out to a 7-2 start and in the thick of the conference race. Then, they lost their last three games.
Fans wanted answers. Negativity surrounded the program. Then, on the afternoon of Dec. 7, it got a lot worse.
The school’s all-time leading receiver, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was sitting in jail. He was charged with allowing drugs to be used "and likely sold" from his home. Officers located cocaine residue, "small quantities of marijuana" in his bedroom, and a variety of legal painkillers and muscle relaxers for which he did not have prescriptions.
National media outlets picked up on the story. For a few days, the Hawkeyes served as the punch line for social media jokes and as the subject for a runaway train of rumors and innuendo.
The school slowed things down by hosting a press conference on their drug testing policies. Ferentz and athletics director Gary Barta said that athletes found a way to beat the department’s testing methods and they planned to evaluate the problem and fix it.
“Very briefly, you acknowledge it,” Iowa Guard Julian Vandervelde said of the off-field news. “You do have to acknowledge it. It’s impossible to let it go completely.”
Vandervelde said the players treated it like a loss on the field. They evaluated what happened, talked about ways to improve and moved on.
“What we were able to do, and hopefully it was the right thing to do, was basically look at the decisions that were made; look at the mistakes that were made,” he said. “This is what we don’t want to be. Now that you’ve see that, you know what not to do.”
Upperclassmen like Clayborn and Vandervelde have dealt with a degree of guilt by association previously in their Iowa career. During parts of the off-season leading into 2007 and into the campaign, the Hawkeyes dealt with drug and sexual assault related arrests. They learned lessons and hoped some of the young players on this team took what happened to heart.
“Hopefully the young guys haven’t been doing anything they’re not supposed to do,” Vandervelde said. “Hopefully if they are, then they’re in the process or have already gotten them out of situations where they could end up in a similar boat.”
In addition to the absence of Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa will be without leading rusher Adam Robinson. He’s back in Iowa after Ferentz suspended him for not complying with team rules.
“Personally, I didn’t even worry about it,” Tight End Allen Reisner said about the off-field transgressions. “It didn’t phase me. I don’t think anyone else was either. The guys that aren’t here, so what?”
The Iowa veterans knew from past experience that questions would be coming from the outside. They were prepared.
“It’s a different world for us,” Vandervelde said. “You have to go into it knowing that these are the questions that are going to be asked. You have to ready yourself for those questions. You can’t get sucked in with everything; just short answers, to the point and move on.
“You can walk around the hotel and no one is talking about what happened the last three weeks of the season. Everyone is focused on this game. That’s the culture that we’ve built.”
That’s important to seniors like Vandervelde, Clayborn and Reisner. They want to leave the program in good shape on the field and off of it.
“The younger guys were probably up in it a little more than us older guys,” Reisner said. “They’ll look to us as leaders. They’ll see that we’re not phased by it and we’re moving on. I feel like they’re going to do the same thing.”
Said Clayborn: “Coach Ferentz did a good job of telling guys what to look out for. We’re fine.”