Josey Jewell arrived at Iowa as a two-star recruit looking for an opportunity.
He made the most of it.
The Hawkeyes’ senior middle linebacker was named Thursday as the recipient of the Nagurski-Woodson Big Ten defensive player of the year award, the first Iowa player chosen as the conference’s best defender since end Leroy Smith was honored in 1991.
In addition to being named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year, Jewell was selected as the Butkus-Fitzgerald linebacker of the year and teammate Josh Jackson was chosen as the Tatum-Woodson defensive back of the year in the conference.
Jewell’s work extends beyond his glossy statistics, which include leading the Big Ten and ranking third nationally with 125 tackles this season.
Jewell is third player in the history of the Iowa program to record at least 115 tackles in three straight seasons, joining Larry Station and Abdul Hodge who accomplished that between 1983-85 and 2003-05, respectively.
Later this month as he prepares to play in his 50th game in an Iowa uniform, Jewell is also positioned to become the first Hawkeye to be selected as a team captain in three consecutive years since at least 1930.
“It’s been a great experience for me,’’ Jewell said. “Coming in, you never know how things will play out, but you work, you grow and develop and you discover that you can compete here and do good things.’’
On the field, Jewell has consistently produced from his position in the heart of the Hawkeye defense.
He has led Iowa in tackles in each of the last three seasons and the 426 tackles he has collected in his career rank fifth on the Hawkeyes’ all-time list.
“Josey is not only one of the best linebackers we’ve ever had here, he’s one of the best football players we’ve had,’’ 19tth-year coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s fun to watch play football, a tremendous player. We’ve had some good linebackers here, but this guy, for what he’s done not only as a player but leadership wise being a three-time captain, pretty much states it all.’’
Ferentz knew what cloth Jewell was cut from when he arrived on campus shortly before the start of fall camp in the fall of 2013.
He didn’t show up in June like a lot of incoming freshmen, preferring to compete one last season for the baseball team at Decorah High School in northeast Iowa.
“He didn’t want to leave his teammates behind, that says a lot about the type of person he is, and he’s been working hard ever since he arrived,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s had to work hard every step of the way and he has.’’
Jewell became a Hawkeye after being offered a scholarship by Iowa late in the recruiting process.
Ultimately he chose the Hawkeyes over attending NCAA Division III Luther College in his hometown of Decorah, Iowa, the program his older brother had played for and a campus less than two miles away from the family farm where Jewell learned the value of hard work as he helped his family with the cattle and turkeys it raises in the hills of northeastern Iowa.
“Things worked out,’’ Jewell said. “I’ve never been afraid of hard work. It’s the only way you can get anywhere in this world. I learned that growing up. It’s a part of who I am to this day.’’
In addition to the Big Ten recognition and being named the winner of the Jack Lambert Award on Monday, Jewell is one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy presented to the nation’s top defender. He is also among finalists for the Senior CLASS Award and for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
Jewell is the first Hawkeye to receive the Butkus-Fitzgerald award from the Big Ten, while Jackson is the third Iowa player in six years to receive the Tatum-Woodson honor, following Micah Hyde in 2012 and Desmond King in 2015.
Jackson has enjoyed a great deal of success in his first season as starter at cornerback, sharing the national lead with seven interceptions and leading the country with 25 passes defended.
He is tied for second nationally with two interceptions returned for touchdowns and 18 pass break-ups and like Jewell, Jackson prefers to let his actions speak for themselves.
“I’ve never been big on talking about myself. I’ll let others do that,’’ Jackson said. “I’m more into preparing for the next opponent and making sure that I’m ready to be on top of my game every week. That’s really what matters to me.’’
The Corinth, Texas native, named Tuesday as the winner of the Jack Tatum Award as the nation’s top defensive back is also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.
The Big Ten named Penn State running back Saquon Barkley as its offensive player of the year, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor as the freshman of the year and the Badgers’ Paul Chryst as its coach of the year.