One-on-one with former Iowa linebacker Mike Humpal

Daily Iowan Sports Reporter Chris Werner chatted with Humpal about his 18-tackle performance in Iowa’s upset victory over Illinois in 2007.


Ben Roberts

Iowa captains (from left) Bryan Mattison, Mike Humpal, Albert Young and Tom Busch take the field during the coin toss of overtime play against the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

The Daily Iowan: What do you remember about that 2007 game? I know Illinois was ranked. And you guys were underdogs, but you came out with the win.

Mike Humpal: I remember a few things in general. I do recall we were having a hard time at that point in the season. I don’t remember exactly where it fell maybe kind of mid-season, somewhere in there but anyhoo, we weren’t playing the greatest, as well as we wanted to. Illinois was doing really well, they were winning a lot of games, they were ranked. They had a lot of hype over some of their offensive players. So, we had a good game plan defensively. And our offense was able to get some points on the board and we pulled out a close win. I do remember during that game we were shutting down their starting offense and quarterback so well. They ended up putting their backup in. Game planning that week, we were a little more concerned about their backup and we thought he was a better quarterback. So he came in, throws a touchdown pass. Thankfully, it ended up getting called back for an illegal formation or something. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have won the game. That would have changed a lot of other things. It was a tight-knit game, real close, a hard-fought game. Norm Parker was the defensive coordinator. Phil Parker was still coaching the defensive backs. But they had put a really good game plan together for us and we were confident as players, went out and executed. And I don’t know that Illinois really expected it. Because, like I said, we weren’t really having a whole lot of success at that time during the year. We played well they didn’t play, maybe they played as good as they could, it’s hard to say. But, on that day, we got them so it was, it was fun.

DI: Individually, you had 18 tackles in that game and I think you were named the defensive player of the week after that. Was there anything different you did individually or were you just finding the ball carriers?

Humpal: I always tried to prepare my best every week, mentally, and I felt really good. I had a really good week of practice I remember, and I just felt really confident in the game plan we had. We really understood their offense and what they were trying to do. You know, so, read the formations and checks. A specific play, for example, little subtle things that you don’t really hear about much or game plan for, their fullback was giving away some of the plays with his eyes. You know, you could see in the fullback’s eyes, where he was going, which direction the play was going. That can narrow things down pretty quickly for you. You know, after you’ve considered things like formations and down and distance and all that sort of thing where you can almost anticipate what the play is going to be. So, that was a helpful little nugget on a few plays. Everybody played a really good game defensively anyway. We played a pretty solid game. After that, Rashard Mendenhall, who was their running back, ended up being drafted in the first round after that year to Pittsburgh, so we went to the same team. He’s a good dude and we’re talking and that specific game in ‘07 was one of the things that got away on them. You know, they weren’t able to win. I remember him, Rashard expressed his frustration with that game and our defense and how he just couldn’t get anything going, couldn’t break any big runs, that sort of thing. So, that specific game sat in his mind as kind of a thorn in his side, I guess, for that season, kind of nice to know that. We didn’t have a ton of successes, you know, lots of wins and big bowl games and all that sort of thing so that was disappointing, but it’s good to know we were able to perform at times.

DI: Going on to your NFL career, I know you were drafted in the ‘08 draft, and then you played in the preseason. Then, you weren’t on the active roster for the regular season. Can you kind of take me through what your NFL career was like?

Humpal: It was a lot shorter than I wanted it to be. The NFL, Not For Long. I was drafted in the sixth round by the Steelers and then I was injured on a kickoff in a preseason game, so I ended up being put on injured reserve that year after the Super Bowl, I didn’t get a ring, people always ask, didn’t really contribute much, I was released. So, then I tried out for another year, trained, had multiple tryouts and I couldn’t get signed. I couldn’t pass physicals to get signed due to the injury that I had, a neck injury. That was kind of my exit from my football playing days. Fast forward now and I’m a chiropractor to help fix people’s neck and back.

DI: Did you become a chiropractor because of your injuries?

Humpal: Largely because of it, yeah and I found relief from chiropractors myself. So, yeah, it was effective. My personal approach to health care and health, a more natural approach. It fit well with me and healthcare’s always been something I’ve been interested in. I decided it was a good fit.

DI: I’m sure you had a team you rooted for in Iowa growing up, did that change when you got drafted by the Steelers? Do you foot for the Steelers now?

Humpal: I do actually, yeah. I was thankful for the opportunity I was given by them. It’s a great organization. From the top all the way down. You know, so I like to see them do well. This year they’re having a good year so far so yeah hopefully they can keep it rolling. But I kind of, I was kind of a fan of the underdog when I was a kid so I liked the Buffalo Bills. I only liked following them for a few years but then I never really clung on to any specific team as I got into high school. And even really college, I was just more focused on my career and never really had a passion for any specific team. Until I had the opportunity in Pittsburgh.

DI: You said Norm Parker was the defensive coordinator when you played an Iowa. Have you noticed any, any big differences, or is it pretty much the same defense that Phil runs now, as the coordinator?

Humpal: Phil has certainly modified things. Phil’s really challenged his players with various defenses. You know, but maybe you could say he’s a little more aggressive from a defensive standpoint. So, you know, you can see, you can see that. Phil’s done a great job. I’m happy for him. It’s fun to watch him and support him. There are certainly differences. He comes from the same mold. He played under coach Norm Parker at Michigan State when he was playing football. Then working the way up, coaching with him for a number of years, and then now taking over here and being the coordinator now. Anytime a new coach takes over they’re always able to inject some of their personal touch into what they already know. So I think it’s been a really good thing because Norm’s base defense is probably as good as anybody in the country, ever. So then, for Phil to kind of put his, his frosting on it I guess or his flavors. It really makes it a hard defense to beat.

DI: How do you think the defense has played really well for another year after losing all those players to the NFL?

Humpal: There are guys stepping up. Every year there’s always someone new that kind of emerges. Nixon’s doing really well. Specifically, he has had some pretty big splash plays. But everybody seems to be playing tough football right now and doing well. That’s the thing I remember Norm always said was that’s the beautiful thing about college football, every year there’s a graduating class and then next year there’s always a new group of people in there. That is college football, you know, so you’ve got to be able to get the guys prepared and ready to take over and fill in and exceed the previous guy, you know, so nothing new that they’re dealing with. From a fan standpoint, you say, ‘Oh you know you lose A.J. Epenesa and you know you lose some of these guys.’ But the next guys are right there, you know, working their tails off ready to step in and take over and make a name for themselves too.

DI: One more thing about your chiropractic work, I know you, you have a focus on treating athletes among other patients. Have you seen a lot of football injuries that people come in with that were similar to yours?

Humpal: I see a fair number of athletes. I don’t necessarily target specifically athletes but just kind of the makeup of who I am and the things I experienced maybe attract that type of person that type of patient. That may, on top of their injury or you know what they’re seeking treatment for. I’m also going to speak to them a little bit about what they’re going through and some of the mental aspects, mental approach. You know food for thought, that’s kind of fun too. Being an athlete and competing isn’t easy, no matter what level you’re in. There are always challenges and trials and different hurdles. So, you know, sometimes it’s helpful for younger kids to hear from somebody else other than their parents. You know, and that sort of thing so yeah I enjoy it. I love what I do and love helping people out, and giving them, you know, kind of a little more positivity and getting them going in the right direction so they can do what they want to do ultimately compete if they’re playing sports or whatever it is. Just to live a life pain-free.

DI: If you could narrow it down to one, what’s your favorite memory about playing football at Iowa, or anything about being at Iowa?

Humpal: That’s a good one. I will say, my best friends throughout my life were teammates of mine. You miss the brotherhood and fellowship. That’s the biggest thing you miss. Fans like the specific moments in time. The catch in the Capital One bowl was, you know, that was a pretty big moment. From a player’s standpoint, I was standing on the sideline for that game. I wasn’t playing a lot, I was younger. But I got to see it happen and I almost couldn’t believe it. Next thing you know, you find yourself in the end zone with everybody else and you don’t have any idea what’s going on. Everyone is just losing their mind. Just moments like that you really remember. But mostly for me, what I cherish the most and remember the most is the relationships with both the coaches and the players. You know now living locally, keeping that connection with, you know, with the program and supporting them in any way, shape or form. And just, you know, really. Being a proud alumnus of the Iowa football program that coach Ferentz has built, that’s you know that’s what means the most to me. You really miss the brotherhood, fellowship, and hanging out with the guys.

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