IOWA CITY — Josey Jewell arrived at Iowa well prepared to chase down some of the Big Ten’s top running backs and receivers.
Named Monday as one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, the Hawkeyes’ junior middle linebacker is putting to use skills he learned on his family’s farm where chores included dealing with thousands of turkeys like those that will be carved up on Thanksgiving dinner tables later this week.
Jewell grew up feeding, cleaning and watering in barns used to house as many as 20,000 turkeys at any given point in time on a farm just outside of Decorah, Iowa, where his tasks also included corralling the often-ornery birds into pens and onto trucks for shipment to market.
“They can be a pretty feisty animal,’’ Jewell said, referring to the turkeys and not the 105 Hawkeye opponents he has tackled through 11 games this season.
Jewell recalls having to lift less-than-cooperative birds and putting them into cages.
“That part of it isn’t a lot of fun,’’ Jewell said. “When they are moving around, they can cut you up pretty good. There are feathers going everywhere.’’
The work is challenge filled and requires persistence and patience, not unlike what he now deals with on a weekly basis in the heart of an Iowa defense which has shown consistent improvement in recent weeks since giving up 599 yards at Penn State.
The Hawkeyes held Michigan to 201 total yards and limited Illinois to 198 last week heading into Friday’s 2:30 p.m. matchup against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium.
Jewell recorded his sixth double-digit tackle effort of the season in Iowa’s win at Illinois last week and as usual he was in the middle of the action.
“Josey plays a position where they can’t run away from him,’’ Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He is a really good player, an igniter if you will. He is just one of those guys.’’
Jewell, the first Iowa player to be selected as a finalist for the Butkus Award since Larry Station in 1985, considers the Hawkeyes recent success to be a collaborative effort.
“It started up front with the D-line, they did a good job and everybody else was filling gaps pretty well the whole game,’’ Jewell said. “It’s awesome. You have a little more fun out there when it’s working like that. You can relax, go out and give it your all and not be hesitant.’’
That has never been an issue for the only Big Ten player among five finalists for the award which will be presented Dec. 6 to the top linebacker in college football. Jewell joins LSU’s Kendall Beckwith, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Florida’s Jarrad Davis and Alabama’s Reuben Foster on the list of finalists.
Rated a two-star recruit by scouting services as a senior at Decorah High School, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Jewell was one of the last players to join the Hawkeyes’ 2013 recruiting class.
He chose Iowa over a partial scholarship offer from Northern Iowa or the chance to follow his brother Robby’s footsteps and continue his career at Division III Luther College just a couple of miles away from his family’s farm, which focuses its business on growing corn as well as raising cattle and turkeys.
“When you grow up on a farm, you work hard because you have to,’’ Jewell said. “You learn how to work, you learn responsibility. You get up early in the morning to chore because there is a responsibility there.’’
And if that means having a face full of turkey feathers on occasion, that’s part of the deal.
“It can be hard work and you have to be dedicated to it for it all to work,’’ Jewell said. “I do know I enjoy sitting down and having a good turkey dinner more than I do working with them before they’re off to the butcher.’’
Probably not all that different from the way opponents feel before having to deal with Jewell.
“I try to come out every game and play the best I can,’’ he said. “That’s what I expect of myself and of the guys around me. We’re in this to give it our best.’’