Bettendorf graduate Pat Angerer is taking his place among the Big Ten's best. (Jeff Cook/Quad-City Times) JEFF COOK

As a youngster, Pat Angerer played all the sports. Almost all of them anyway.

He played football, of course. But he also loved wrestling. He competed in soccer. He tried track. The only sport he rejected at a very early age was baseball.

"He didn't like T-ball because he didn't ever want to stop at first base," recalled Mary Angerer, his mother. "And he didn't stop. Not ever. He would just keep going."

His ability and his desire to "just keep going" has allowed Angerer to emerge as one of the premier linebackers in college football. As Iowa begins fall workouts this week, the former Bettendorf star is poised to improve on a breakout season in which he was named second-team All-Big Ten.

But less than two years ago, Angerer was prepared to cast it all aside.

He was in his third season at Iowa and within sight of his first extensive playing time. But a bout with mononucleosis wiped out his summer. Chronic hamstring injuries kept interrupting his fall. He played in four games and made one tackle. The guys he had come up with were enjoying the thrill of basking in the adulation of 70,000 fans every Saturday.

Angerer wasn't.

"He was going to give up football," said Cliff Angerer, his father. "We sat down with him and said, 'No way, Pat. Just give 100 percent and see what happens. You're there for the education anyway. Use the scholarship and don't give up football yet.'

"Fortunately, he listened to his brother and his mom. He never listens to me."

Angerer just kept going, and it all has worked out very nicely.

"I was lucky I had the support of friends and family back then," he said. "That helped me push through it."

In truth, quitting would have been the most out-of-character move imaginable for a 22-year-old with a workaholic mentality, a kid with such a nonstop motor that he used to get bored in elementary school when there wasn't enough going on.

Mary Angerer would go to school and eat lunch with Pat or take him home for lunch. Sometimes they'd go to the park.

"Sometimes we'd just sit there in the parking lot and eat," Mary said. "He was just bored. It just made his day better when we did that."

Noticeable speed

He began playing flag football in the seventh grade and was a receiver then. But he said he didn't like the sport enough to even try it at the high school level. His older brother, Chris Willey, talked him into it.

By his sophomore year, the Bettendorf coaches were aware of who he was.

"It was just like wow; you could just see that he was a man against a lot of boys," said Randy Scott, who was then the Bulldogs' varsity coach.

Scott had several good linebackers on the varsity that year, but he brought up Angerer for the Class 4A playoffs and the Bulldogs made a surprising run to the state championship game.

"The most noticeable thing about him was his speed and quickness," Scott said. "There's no substitute for speed, and he has it. He's just lightning quick. That's why he had such a great year last year."

As a junior at Bettendorf, Angerer had one of the most extraordinary seasons of any linebacker in the history of the state. He made 60 more tackles than any player ever had in the annals of one of the most storied programs in the state. He made 25 tackles in one game and stopped opposing backs behind the line of scrimmage an astonishing 35 times.

Not surprisingly, he was recruited by Iowa and made a verbal commitment before his senior season.

Grand finale

Angerer was equally dominant as a senior, although injuries plagued him for the first time. He had broken his left hand in wrestling the previous winter and in the fall of 2004, he broke his right hand. He also sustained a cracked vertebrae in a late-season game with Pleasant Valley.

That injury appeared to be the end of his high school career. The Bettendorf cheerleaders and fans wore pink ribbons at the team's quarterfinal playoff game with Iowa City to lament the fact that their two-time all-stater was done.

But Angerer never believed he was finished.

"There's no way he was going to miss (the state championship) game," Cliff Angerer said.

When the Bulldogs went to the UNI-Dome to face West Des Moines Valley, the team that had beaten them in the title game two years earlier, Angerer was there.

"We didn't think we'd get him back," Scott said. "But he was a young kid in just unbelievably good shape, and with therapy and stemming, he came back. Him playing at 90 percent was like most kids playing 110 percent."

As Scott put it, Valley didn't have an answer for him.

"He just kind of lived in their backfield," he said.

Angerer made 12 tackles that night, half of them behind the line of scrimmage. Awestruck Valley players hung around the field afterward to tell him how impressed they were.

Close to quitting

The start of his college career followed a normal progression: He redshirted as a freshman and saw a smattering of action on special teams in his second season.

Then came 2007 and the mono, the hamstring, the doubt and the frustration.

"With mono, it just takes so long to get it out of your system," Willey said. "He just wasn't prepared for the season and then the hamstring injuries set him back. That was the year he was thinking about playing more, and it was tough seeing guys he was planning to play with out there having fun. It wears on you a little bit."

Ferentz referred to it as "one of the worst years you could possibly have.

"He was pretty much in a funk the whole year ..." he added. "He never really got to catch up."

Angerer's brother was among the many who helped him get through it. Willey had played football at Bettendorf and St. Ambrose, and harbored a lingering dissatisfaction with the way his career had turned out.

"I didn't have the same experience as him, of course, but I had a lot of regrets, a lot of things I wished I had done. Being my little brother, I think he trusts my input. I told him there were a lot of things I wish I'd done and I think that helped him quite a bit."

Focusing on football

Finally healthy, Angerer had a good spring in 2008. He was battling Jacody Coleman, who had been impressive as a true freshman in 2007, for the starting middle linebacker job when the fall began.

"I think he kind of saw his college career going by the wayside," said fellow senior linebacker A.J. Edds. "He realized he had to make every minute count, make every play count. Once he did that, I saw a definite improvement in the way he played.

"Instead of looking at other people to do the job, he started looking at himself and thinking about what he needed to do."

Coleman started the first two games but then Angerer took over. He led the Hawkeyes in tackles, was third in the nation in interceptions among linebackers and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

"I think just getting out there in front of 70,000 people cured a lot," Willey said.

Angerer said he just "lived like a cowboy" in his first few years at Iowa. It's not that he wasn't trying hard or putting forth the effort. It's just that he wasn't as consistent and as focused as he needed to be.

"I didn't get the proper rest and right nutrition," he said. "I didn't focus on football on and off the field. Now I do it 24/7. After practice I just go to my room and eat and think about football."

Staying humble

Willey said he thinks his kid brother just needed to grow up a little more. He pointed out that it's not easy for a high school kid to suddenly become a Hawkeye and find that he's an object of affection for one of the most loyal fan groups in the country.

"They're forced to grow up real fast," he said. "Some of them do and some don't.

"I think Pat always has been a little more mature than other kids his age and I feel like he really has settled down. I think (defensive coordinator Norm Parker) said it best when he said Pat grew from the shoulders up."

Parker now refers to Angerer as a player on the rise.

Edds calls him the emotional leader of the defense.

Whatever happens this fall, the kid who couldn't bring himself to stop at first base has made everyone proud by the fact that he just kept going, without pausing to thump his chest and celebrate his accomplishments.

"I'm so glad he's not a bragger," Cliff Angerer said. "He's just so humble. When he goes out, he doesn't want to be recognized. He doesn't wear any Iowa stuff.

"He's just a humble kid, not like me. He tells me to shut up sometimes when I start bragging about him. I'm just a proud dad, I guess."