TAMPA, Fla. – One more chance, that is all Iowa defensive end Dominic Alvis ever wanted.
The senior cherished the opportunity to suit up just one last time for the Hawkeyes, healthy and ready to compete at a high level.
A starter in Iowa’s first seven games this season, Alvis will get that chance in Wednesday’s Outback Bowl.
Alvis said he is “100 percent’’ for the noon game against Louisiana State, moving beyond the lower strain in his back which derailed his senior season.
“You make such a commitment, put in so many hours 12 months out of the year, to have it all taken away like that was beyond description,’’ Alvis said. “There was a time when I was really depressed and just trying to get my feet back under me. All you can do is take it one day at a time and pray for the best.’’
Alvis had started 18 straight games when he first limped off the field in the first half of an Oct. 5 game against Michigan State and did not return.
Following a bye week, he returned to action Oct. 19 at Ohio State, only to leave after a handful of plays.
He missed the Hawkeyes’ next three games, made only a cameo appearance in Iowa’s final home game against Michigan and recorded his first tackle in nearly two months in the regular-season finale at Nebraska.
That wasn’t the way the 6-foot-4, 265-pound native of Logan, Iowa, expected a season which started with a career-high nine tackles against Northern Illinois to play out.
“Injuries are a part of the game, I get that, but when something like this pops up, it’s so difficult to deal with. It gets you,’’ Alvis said. “There were some dark times. I had to step away from the field.’’
The chance to return provided Alvis with hope, as did the weekly growth of a defensive line which coach Kirk Ferentz has labeled the most improved segment of this year’s Iowa team.
The only senior to start on the defensive front for the Hawkeyes this year, Alvis provided as much leadership as he could muster from the sidelines.
He watched his replacement, Mike Hardy, compete effectively to complement the interior play of tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat and the work of Drew Ott and Nate Meier at left end.
The group helped hold 11 of Iowa’s 12 opponents below their season rushing average, forcing three-and-outs on 58-of-147 drives this season.
That work added up to an 8-4 record during a turnaround season for the Hawkeyes and the chance to return at full strength for a bowl game has motivated Alvis for more than a month.
“He gives us another starter along with Hardy, fresh legs and plenty of experience,’’ Davis said. “We’re a better defense with him back on the field and playing football the way he can.’’
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker expects Hardy and Alvis to rotate at the right end position, providing fresh legs to deal with an LSU offensive line which stands an average of 6-4 and weighs an average of 314.8 pounds.
“Going against that many big bodies, the fresher we can keep our guys the better,’’ Parker said. “It’s good to have Dom back and to have him healthy. It’s really going to make a difference in our depth.’’
Despite the time he missed, only four Hawkeyes have more than the five tackles for a loss that Alvis contributed this season and only James Morris and Ott have more than the two sacks Alvis has recorded.
Alvis said his back “feels great,’’ and he has developed an appreciation for people who deal with back issues on a regular basis.
“It’s something I’ll never take for granted,’’ Alvis said. “It was a slow road back, one step and then another step. I couldn’t get too far ahead of myself.’’
As much as he appreciated the snaps he received in the wins over the Wolverines and Cornhuskers which positioned Iowa for its first New Year’s Day bowl game since the 2009 Orange Bowl season, Alvis has anticipated the chance to play in a bowl even more.
“The defensive line has made so many strides this year and to have one last chance to be out there with them at 100 percent, to be healthy and ready, it’s been the motivation for the past month,’’ Alvis said. “I never doubted that we could put ourselves in this spot. Now, we have to make the most of it.’’