IOWA CITY — At the core of the Iowa football team’s defense is a real Jewell.
From the attitude to the execution, Josey Jewell embodies what the Hawkeyes want from a middle linebacker. As he prepares for the start of his senior season, his motivation remains unchanged.
“Perfection is the challenge. You chase it every day,’’ Jewell said. “What I’m trying to do now isn’t any different than what I was trying to do the day I got here. I’m working to be the best I can be.’’
Named last week as a first-team preseason all-American by the Associated Press, Jewell’s pursuit of that objective has largely been successful as he works to extend a string of 30 consecutive starts when Iowa opens its season Saturday with an 11 a.m. game against Wyoming.
Jewell’s effort has led him to lead Iowa in tackles the past two seasons, ranking second in the Big Ten with 124 a year ago after finishing with 126 as sophomore.
But there is more to his game than dominating an opponent.
Jewell is beginning his fourth season as part of Iowa’s team leadership council, reflective of his work off the field as well as on it.
“Josey’s everything about Iowa football and what you’re looking for as an inside linebacker to lead your team,’’ defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “He’s got great toughness. He’s a smart football player, and every day he’s giving great effort. Right now, he’s watching, helping the young guys.’’
Joining Bo Bower and Ben Niemann as senior starters at the linebacker positions, Jewell is helping lay the foundation for the next generation of Hawkeye linebackers.
“We always talk about leaving the jersey in a better place and part of that responsibility is making sure that the guys behind you are ready,’’ Jewell said. “We have some good, young linebackers in the program and I think we take it seriously, teaching them everything they can to step in and make plays.’’
Parker sees that, too.
Beyond the tenacity and instincts which separate him from other linebackers, the leadership traits Jewell displays off the field makes a difference.
“Just the way he carries himself, his demeanor on the field, off the field, everybody wants to aspire to be as good as he is,’’ Parker said. “I think that helps the younger guys and it will speed those guys up a little bit more. The more time they are with him in meeting rooms, the more times he is on the field with them, it only helps.’’
It’s all part of who Jewell is.
Farm-raised in the hills of northeast Iowa, just outside of Decorah, Jewell developed an understanding for the value of hard work as he assisted in his family’s grain, cattle and turkey operation.
It was there where Jewell also developed a passion for football.
He found a sport for every season at Decorah High School, football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer.
But football was always where Jewell shined.
“He was always a guy who worked hard in practice, but when the games started, he always seemed to find another gear,’’ said Bill Post, Jewell’s coach at Decorah and the coach who decided to elevate the future Hawkeye to the varsity level midway through his sophomore season in high school.
“From the start, you could tell he was going to be a really good football player. The instincts, his ability to know where the ball was going to be and to be there in the middle of things, all those things that helps him compete now, they were part of who Josey was in high school.’’
Playing running back and linebacker, Jewell helped lead Decorah to a 34-6 record over three seasons including an Iowa Class 3A state runner-up finish as a junior and a state championship as a senior.
He ran for 1,314 yards and finished with 100 tackles to help his prep team finish with a 14-0 record during his senior season.
All-state honors followed, but only a handful of recruiters found their way down the two-lane highways which lead to Decorah, most likely because at 6-foot-1 and barely 200 pounds, Jewell didn’t fit “the mold’’ of most Football Bowl Division linebackers.
Iowa assistant Reese Morgan visited several times, Iowa State assistants were in contact as were coaches from Northern Iowa, which initially offered Jewell three quarters of a scholarship and then trimmed that back to one quarter of a scholarship.
With signing day nearing and only a promise from Morgan than an Iowa offer was forthcoming, Jewell was preparing to follow his brother Robby to hometown Luther College.
“I know I could have been satisfied there,’’ Jewell said. “It’s home. My family has competed there. I could have been part of the same team with my brother my freshman year. It would have been good.’’
But, it wasn’t what Jewell really wanted.
Just days before signing day, Morgan’s promised scholarship offer from Iowa came through and Jewell didn’t hesitate.
“It was what I was hoping for all along,’’ Jewell said. “I grew up wanting to play for Iowa. I wanted to be Pat Angerer. I wanted to do the things that he was doing.’’
When Jewell arrived at Iowa, he was given the same jersey number, 43, that Angerer wore when he was compiling all-Big Ten honors and preparing for an NFL career.
Suddenly, the bar had been raised.
“There I was, in an Iowa uniform and in a uniform with the same number of a guy I grew up trying to be like,’’ Jewell said. “This was happening. This was real.’’
Jewell redshirted as a true freshman in 2013, but worked his way onto the field as a redshirt freshman and started the final four games that season.
He left a memorable impression in an otherwise forgettable TaxSlayer Bowl effort by Iowa, one of few bright spots in a 45-28 loss to Tennessee.
Jewell was all over the field in that game, recording 14 tackles and displaying the kind of tenacity which he has become known for as a starter the past two seasons.
“It was Josey being Josey,’’ Bower said. “He was out there, all over the place, making plays and he never gave an inch. That’s why he is the player he is. He has such great instincts, is always around the ball and he shows that every game.’’
The first of three straight January bowl games that Jewell has started for the Hawkeyes wasn’t the most memorable game of his career, but that experience contributes to the motivation which guides Jewell every time he steps on the field.
“I think I find fuel from the times when things don’t go well,’’ Jewell said. “Thinking about what we could have done to change the outcome of a game – the loss in the last minute in the Big Ten Championship, the losses in the bowl games – those things motivate me. How could I have done things differently? That drives me. That makes me work harder.’’
As he prepares for his senior season and now listed at 6-2 and 236 pounds, Jewell plans to translate that work into results.
“I’ve spent four years proving people wrong, showing them that I belong,’’ Jewell said. “That doesn’t change. We all have a chance to prove ourselves every Saturday. I’m planning to make the most of it and, as a team, I feel like we can do the same.’’