IOWA CITY — Quinton Alston doesn’t major in patience at Iowa, but it is one skill the Hawkeyes’ middle linebacker has mastered.
After three seasons of watching and waiting behind James Morris, learning every step along the way, Alston is ready to make his own mark from a spot in the heart of the Iowa defense.
“I only get one chance and I’m ready to make the most of it,’’ the senior said.
Alston is positioned to fill one of three vacant linebacker spots for the Hawkeyes, a role he has prepared for and is determined to make the most of now that Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey have completed their eligibility.
“Those three players have meant a lot to our defense and now is the time when we need guys to step and emerge,’’ Alston said. “Playing middle linebacker, I feel like I need to be one of those guys and I’m ready to make that happen.’’
He’s not the only one who believes that.
Iowa inside linebackers coach Jim Reid senses that as well, believing that Alston has perfectly tackled the wait for his one-year starting opportunity.
“He’s tough, he’s physical and you know what, he has the respect of our players,’’ Reid said. “When he speaks, he’s like E.F. Hutton, people listen.’’
There was a time when Alston and even coach Kirk Ferentz wondered if that would happen for the 6-foot-1, 232-pound native of Sicklerville, N.J.
Alston enters his senior season credited with 23 tackles in his career, stepping into a role where Morris averaged just under 10 tackles per game over the past three seasons.
“It’s not easy, waiting and wondering if it is every going to happen, but as long as you keep working and believe in the system, you know the chance is there for things to eventually work out,’’ Alston said
Ferentz said following Alston’s sophomore season he questioned internally if that would happen.
“A year ago, I wasn’t sure where it was going, quite frankly, based on the year before that,’’ Ferentz said. “But, he had a really good spring (in 2013) and had an outstanding fall. If James wasn’t here last year, we had all the confidence in the world that he would have played really well. He just got positioned behind a really good player.’’
The growth Ferentz has seen from Alston led to opportunities last season which have only added to the confidence Iowa coaches have in Alston filling the quarterback-like spot in the Hawkeye defense.
Alston was part of the so-called Raider package that Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker designed for third-down situations last fall.
In the rush package, Alston and freshman Reggie Spearman — who is competing this spring for the starting role at weakside linebacker — lined up as a defensive end as part of a three-man front.
“We played out of position a bit and came off the edges. It was fun,’’ Alston said.
And, it prepared both for expanded roles this season.
“What I saw last fall was all of a sudden Reggie and Quinton walked into the meeting room with their chests out just a little more, with a little bit more of a smile on their face,’’ Reid said. “All of a sudden it means a little more because they’re a part of it, and they deserved to be part of it because they worked hard. Growth takes a lot of different avenues.’’
Alston has traveled many paths since switching from his initial commitment to Pittsburgh to Iowa following a coaching change.
“I don’t regret anything,’’ Alston said. “I’ve been part of a great program and if I wouldn’t play a down next season, those thoughts wouldn’t change. Coming to Iowa is the best decision I’ve ever made.’’
For now, as he works toward the Hawkeyes’ first public appearance of the spring next Saturday in a 1 p.m. open practice at West Des Moines Valley High School, Alston’s energies are focused on doing what he has prepared three seasons to do.
“The three guys ahead of us last year, they taught us how to do it and they left us the blueprint,’’ Alston said. “Now, it’s time to step up and lead.’’