The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Conversation creating continuity: How a meal at Pullman Diner changed the fate of the Iowa defense

The Hawkeyes returned eight of their 11 defensive starters in large part because of a shared meal at the downtown Iowa City restaurant.
Isabella Tisdale
Iowa defensive back Quinn Schulte looks to tackle Iowa Wide receiver Kaleb Brown during a scrimmage at a spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 20, 2024. The Hawkeyes held a free open practice for fans.

Some of the best conversations happen at the dinner table.

For Iowa football, it was a meal at Pullman Diner in downtown Iowa City that ultimately changed the fate of the program.

Coming off a 10-4 season, the Hawkeyes were expected to have roster turnover on a defense that ranked in the top five nationally in points allowed and passing yards conceded. Key contributors from that group, such as linebackers Jay Higgins and Nick Jackson, as well as defensive backs Quinn Schulte, Sebastian Castro, and Jermari Harris, each had a decision to make.

All were eligible to leave the program. Higgins, Jackson, and Castro were garnering attention from the NFL. First, though, they wanted to hear each other out. So, in early January, those with looming choices met up at Pullman Diner and aired out their thoughts.

“It was really unorganized,” Jackson said of the meeting at media availability on April 16. “There was a possibility that we only had a week left together and you’re like, ‘Dang, we could have another year together.’”

The conversation sparked consensus – as all five of those players opted for another year of eligibility and are set to command the defense once again when the 2024 season kicks off on August 31.

“We sat down with everybody on the fence,” Higgins said of the team dinner after Iowa’s spring practice on April 20. “And we just talked about, you know, the advantages and the disadvantages. There’s nothing promised … You got to come out every year, you got to show up … We were never scared of that.”

“It was kind of cool to see everybody have their own reasons to come back, everybody had their own reasons to leave,” he added. “We’re all in different situations. But it was a good dinner because it was just us – no coaches, no media,” he added.

Iowa returned eight of its 11 defensive starters from last season – as defensive linemen Joe Evans and Logan Lee ran out of eligibility while star cornerback Cooper DeJean declared for the NFL Draft. As for everyone else, the opportunity to have another year at a place that feels like home is too good to pass up.

“These [are] my guys,” Harris said of everyone’s decision to return. “We sat down at dinner, talked about it, [and] they made it happen. So I’m glad to be back with them. It’s like home.”

Having all these returners on the defensive side of the ball gives Iowa a good chance for success next season. But it also means that the younger players on the team will have to sit back another season and gain more knowledge from those seasoned veterans.

“Every young guy [has] at least two to three guys he can look up to,” Higgins said. “Just go across the board. The D-line room: Deontae Craig, [Max] Llewellyn, [Yahya] Black, [Ethan] Hurkett. I mean those are guys who [have] logged a lot of snaps.”

“The DB room is loaded as well. Quinn [Schulte], Castro, [Harris], those guys are dudes who understand the defense. And I’m more than comfortable when a young guy has a question or concern that those are the guys that give them responses,” he added.

Yet Higgins and other veteran defenders are learning just as much as the younger guys as the team’s offense gradually evolves under new coordinator Tim Lester. With constant pre-snap motion, Lester continues to keep the Iowa defense on its toes by throwing a bunch of different looks at them. Many players described it as good preparation for the upcoming season.

“It’s honestly kind of scary how many guys we have who can go out there and play right now,” linebacker Kyler Fisher said of the team’s defensive depth. “I think that with the addition of coach Lester and this new offense, you know, they’ve given us a lot of things to kind of reflect on and look at our defense. We made improvements, and I think that we know we’re getting a lot better.”

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Chris Meglio
Chris Meglio, Sports Reporter
Chris Meglio is a first year student at the University of Iowa studying a double major in sport studies and journalism. He will be working as a sports journalist for The Daily Iowan covering women's volleyball for the fall sports season.
Isabella Tisdale
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.