Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – It made me smile to see Dalton Ferguson listed as the starting right tackle for the Iowa football team.
It made me think back to the first time I interviewed Ferguson heading into his senior season at Solon High School in 2013.
Ferguson was a big kid with a big smile and big aspirations.
He is now a big man with the same smile and the same aspirations that pushed him to succeed in high school.
Ferguson is the latest in a long and distinguished line of walk-ons at Iowa who have been rewarded for staying on a difficult course.
His reward might only prove to be one start as a Hawkeye because Ferguson is only starting due to Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson both being suspended for Saturday’s season opener against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.
There seems to be little doubt that Wirfs and Jackson are Iowa’s top two tackles as sophomores, and that both will regain their starting positions when they return.
But that doesn’t make what Ferguson has accomplished any less impressive.
It might have just the opposite effect.
Ferguson has stayed the course as a walk-on despite mostly being buried on the depth chart and despite suffering two serious knee injuries, including one in the spring of 2017 that caused him to miss the first nine games last season.
“To me, that’s the epitome of being a team player,” said Solon head football coach Kevin Miller, who coached Ferguson in high school. “Sacrificing a great deal for the betterment of the team. That’s quite a story, honestly.
“He’s still a walk-on, and to endure two ACL injuries, and still his fifth year when he could have just graduated, but instead, wanted to stick it out another year and now having the opportunity to start on Saturday, I think that is just a remarkable story. I really do.”
For every Dallas Clark or Bruce Nelson or Bo Bower who became key players after walking on the Iowa football team, there are countless others that don’t play in the games on Saturday.
We just don’t hear about them very often.
I probably wouldn’t have written a column about Dalton Ferguson on the Monday before the season opener without him being a starter.
Ferguson’s story would’ve been better for Senior Day, but his story has suddenly changed with him now representing Iowa’s Next-Man-In philosophy.
His story has gone from being a feel-good story about a local kid who has stayed the course with little notice or appreciation from the outside to a more serious feel-good story about the challenge of stepping up when needed.
It is no secret that Iowa is vulnerable when its rushing attack sputters. Hold the Hawkeyes to fewer than 100 yards rushing and your chances of winning are real good.
Iowa won all eight games last season when it surpassed 100 yards rushing and lost all five when it didn’t.
Ferguson’s ability to do his job as the starting right tackle could have a significant impact on Saturday’s outcome because the Hawkeyes could be in trouble if they can't sustain a rushing attack.
“He’s a very good athlete,” Miller said of Ferguson, who tossed the shot put over 60 feet at the state meet in high school. “I couldn’t be any happier for Dalton.”
Something tells me that Ferguson will be ready and up to the challenge on Saturday. And I felt that way even before speaking with Miller.
My opinion could be the result of having a local bias, but it has more to do with my belief in a young man who could’ve easily transferred to a different school after it became apparent that he would not be a full-time starter at Iowa.
I don’t want to speak for the coaches at Northern Iowa or for the coaches for all the Mid-American Conference schools, but it’s reasonable to think that the 6-foot-4, 308-pound Ferguson could’ve played a significant role for any of those teams.
Just being in a position to start on the offensive line at Iowa is impressive, even if it’s just for one game and due to injuries.
But there is so much more to Dalton Ferguson than just football.
That was apparent from talking with Miller about his former player. You can tell sometimes when a coach is just providing lip service. But that hardly was the case with Miller, who gushed over Ferguson.
“I’ve coached some great players and he is one the most genuinely nice human beings that you’ll come across,” Miller said. “I’ve coached some great kids and he certainly ranks up there as one the greatest, just one of the nicest people I’ve ever been around.”
Miller told a story on Monday that helps to explain why he thinks so highly of Ferguson.
Miller was upset about something when Ferguson, a high senior at the time, tried to console him.
“He said, coach, do you want to talk about it?” Miller said. “I said, listen; you’re seventeen years old. You’re not going to console me, an adult, over something that I’m dealing with.
“But that’s just the type of heart, he’s just got a big heart, just a dedicated and committed young man. He’s bound to do great things. How he’s handled this situation just speaks so highly of his character.”
I'm guessing Kevin Miller also smiled after learning that Ferguson was listed as a starter.