Hawkeyes ready to take on red-hot Illini

Iowa’s 19 football seniors will be honored before their final home game against Illinois.


Lily Smith

Illinois' RaVon Bonner runs the ball during the Iowa/Illinois football game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday, November 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 63-0, to snap a 3-game losing streak.

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

The Iowa football program is embodied by the swarm. Players side-by-side, hands interlocked with the teammates next to them, moving as one unit onto the field at Kinnick Stadium after AC/DC and Metallica blare.

That routine changes slightly this weekend.

On Saturday against Illinois, Iowa’s 19 seniors will take the field one-by-one for senior day.

“It’s always a bittersweet day for everybody involved,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s always a special thing. And as always, I have such respect for the guys that run the entire race, that stay here and fight through the adversity they go through, whether it’s academically, injury-wise, all the things that are challenging about being a student-athlete at this level.”

Iowa’s opponent on this year’s senior day is one it has had no problems with recently. The Hawkeyes have won 10 of their last 11 meetings against Illinois, including a 63-0 drubbing of the Illini last season.

This is not the Illinois team of years’ past, however.

The Illini sit at 6-4 after winning their last four games, highlighted by a 24-23 upset victory over Wisconsin.

The focus for Iowa will be on extending its winning ways against Illinois and keeping the emotions from senior day out of the game itself. That extends to Illinois native and senior Iowa tight end Nate Wieting.

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Wieting has battled numerous injuries throughout his time at Iowa and has sat behind four eventual NFL players at his position. Those factors combined have kept Wieting from seeing significant playing time throughout his career, but he was determined to stick it out to the end.

“There were definitely some tough times I remember,” Wieting said. “[The 2017] offseason, I didn’t even go and lift with the team. I was just in the training room trying to rehab injuries. But again, you’ve got to pick yourself up, got to persevere. You got to stay at it. I wanted to go through the program, become a senior.”

Wieting made it to the end of the line and has come a long way since his first day of practice in Iowa City.

“I was like a deer in headlights from the very first day,” Wieting said. “I’m looking around. I don’t know anybody. I don’t know anything, how the program is run, how the offense is run. I just tried to show up on time and learn as much as I could as fast as I could.

“I remember our first skills and drills. We broke down as a team and everyone scatters, and I’m just standing there looking around like, ‘Where do I go?’ I’ve obviously come a long way since then. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work. Some rough times and some really good times. I don’t regret any of it. It’s been a really great experience.”

Looking back is a theme leading up to this type of game, not only for Wieting.

Defensive lineman Cedrick Lattimore goes into his final home game knowing his family, once again, will be there rooting him on.

“This is just going to be really emotional,” Lattimore said. “Just seeing my mom and dad out there, I might cry. My family has always been there, especially my mom. That’s my No. 1 supporter. She hasn’t missed a game. That means something to me — she has a special place in my heart. I love my mom.”

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