IOWA CITY, Iowa - Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was one of the few football enthusiasts living in Iowa that didn’t know much about Brandon Wegher.
“I didn’t hear much about him until he was on the team,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “He’s got You Tube videos. I guess he was like a celebrity before he got here.”
Johnson-Koulianos can relate. The Hawkeye junior carries with him a legacy of being a high school prodigy.
Before Wegher arrived in Iowa City this summer, the running back from Sioux City Heelan had his own website. He was one of the most-heavily recruited prospects every to come up in the state.
Wegher signed his letter of intent with the Hawkeyes in February. The debate began on what position he would play and if he would see action as a first-year collegian. Despite excelling as a prep back, critics felt he would be relegated to safety.
The chances of him playing as a true freshman seemed slim with Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson expected to be the top two running backs and safety being locked up with veterans.
Then, Wegher put an end to the debate and speculation. He lived up to the hype.
“When I first met him when he walked on campus, we worked out and his demeanor was almost like he had been here for two years,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “He knew everything, what we were doing and how to work out, the tempo of practice. He made plays. His athleticism is phenomenal. Brandon is an awesome pickup for us.”
Wegher received his first start last week in the 42-24 win against Indiana. Hampton and Brinson have been out all season with injuries. Adam Robinson, who started the previous seven games, injured himself at Michigan State and could miss the rest of the regular season.
Wegher burned the Hoosiers for 118 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. He came into the game averaging about 3 yards a carry, which created worry among Hawkeye fans who felt he might not be able to shoulder the full-time load. They were wondering if the redshirt would be removed from freshman Brad Rogers.
“His performance was huge,” Iowa Quarterback Rick Stanzi said of Wegher’s game against Indiana. “He’s kind of almost been flying under the radar the way A-Rob has been playing. Brandon has been doing such a great job the whole season.
“As a true freshman, the way that he has stepped in is tremendous. So, for him to get his first start and go out there and get some touchdowns and over 100, that just makes it so much easier for the offense. When we’re in those periods where we need to run the football. We have a guy that’s very tough, very durable. He’s young, but he can still do what we need to.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz was confident that his freshman would get the job done. He felt like Wegher had run into some bad luck at times during the season, which caused production to suffer.
Wegher’s teammates certainly believe in his ability.
“I’m a huge fan of his as a football player and as a person,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “The kid has a positive outlook on life. He’s an outstanding citizen. He’s a tremendous talent.
“To be a teammate and watch him at practice and watch his ability, I admire it. He’s a true freshman. He lost his partner (Robinson) in crime and he went out there (against Indiana) and held his own. He takes so many hits and he just gets right back up and makes plays. For a guy to be that young and that focused and mature and the way he handles his school work and social life, Brandon is an outstanding guy.”
Among Iowa’s 22 starters this weekend, Wegher will be among five players that saw time as true freshmen. A.J. Edds, Bryan Bulaga, Christian Ballard and Shaun Prater are the others.
“With he and Keenan (Davis), I tell them, you know he’s getting thrown into the fire,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “I remember when I was a true freshman. It felt like everything I was going, on the field, off the field, it was just, my head was spinning off my shoulders. There was no way I was going to be able to play that year. That’s a credit to those guys.”