IOWA CITY – Akrum Wadley arrived at Iowa with modest goals.
He’ll complete his career with the Hawkeyes at the Pinstripe Bowl this week as one of the most successful running backs in the program’s history.
Wadley has come a long, long way since he arrived at Iowa in the fall of 2013, finding his way onto the field, overcoming several obstacles along the way and ultimately thriving in the backfield as the Hawkeyes prepare to face Boston College in Wednesday’s 4:15 p.m. game at Yankee Stadium.
“When you think about it all, it’s a little overwhelming. The world spins fast,’’ Wadley said.
In Wadley’s world, it’s been quite a journey from the day the 166-pound running back showed up at his first fall camp to working his way onto the list of the top five rushers in Hawkeye history.
“All I ever wanted to do was to prove that I belonged,’’ Wadley said. “I came out here, I just wanted to play in a game, show people that I could do that.’’
He did that and more.
“He was a boy when he went out to Iowa. Out there, he became a man,’’ Wadley’s mother, Sharonda Phelps, said. “The coaches there, the work they put in helped him grow as a player and a person. When I watch him play now, I’m so happy with how it worked out. I’m proud of what he’s become.’’
With his contributions over the past four seasons, Wadley has quietly made his own noise in the Hawkeye career record book.
He enters the Pinstripe Bowl with 34 career touchdowns, two shy of the Iowa school record of 36 established by Bettendorf’s Tavian Banks from 1994-97.
Overall, Wadley has rushed for 2,784 yards.
Among Iowa backs, only Sedrick Shaw, Ladell Betts, Albert Young and Banks have covered more yardage on the ground and Wadley’s 3,521 yards from scrimmage, including 737 receiving yards, also ranks fifth in Hawkeye history.
The total and depth of Wadley’s numbers even caught coach Kirk Ferentz by surprise.
“Full disclosure, it snuck up on me,’’ Ferentz said. “I do read those postgame reports, the notes out of the press box, and somewhere around midseason, I started looking at that. It was like ‘Holy smokes, this guy is adding them up.’ I don’t want to say quietly, but it’s amazing what he’s done, the company he is with. It’s pretty amazing.’’
With 1,021 yards this season, Wadley is the Hawkeyes’ first back to top 1,000 rushing yards in consecutive seasons since Fred Russell in the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
“That puts him in pretty elite territory,’’ Ferentz said.
Growth, both mentally and physically, has allowed that to happen.
Coaches consistently prodded Wadley to gain weight, believing that modest gains to where he is at today at around 192 pounds would provide him with the strength and durability he needed to be a consistent contributor.
Throughout his career, Wadley has had his moments.
Some good, some he’d prefer to forget.
As a redshirt freshman, he stepped into action in the fourth quarter of a midseason game against Northwestern and rushed for 106 yards on 15 carries, finishing off a 48-7 win with a five-yard sprint into the end zone.
A fumble in that game, and another following week in a game against Minnesota, limited his playing time for the rest of the year.
Wadley didn’t help himself in the offseason, sending out a Facebook message in late January of 2015 that invited the entire Iowa Class of 2017 to a party at his place.
Classmates showed up, and so did the Iowa City police, ticketing Wadley and a teammate for having a disorderly house.
“Not cool,’’ Wadley said. “Learned my lesson. There have been a few of those along the way. I’ve learned a lot here. It was the right deal for me. Learned a lot.’’
Wadley worked his way back onto the field again, but not before an early-season fumble in 2015 kept him behind Jordan Canerzi and LeShun Daniels on the depth chart.
Injures to both ultimately gave Wadley another chance, one he said at the time he felt was probably his last opportunity to regain the trust of his coaches.
It came during a game at Northwestern, where Canzeri left in the first quarter with an ankle injury and Wadley rescued the Hawkeyes with a 204-yard rushing effort that included four touchdowns in a 40-10 win that sent Iowa on its way to a 12-0 regular season.
“The team needed that. I needed that. The whole world needed that,’’ Wadley said. “After that game, I knew I belonged, that I could do this.’’
He’s proven it on a regular basis since.
“I’m glad it worked out the way it has, you know, I always wonder what would have happened if things didn’t work out the way they did,’’ Wadley said. “To do what I’ve done here. It’s meant a lot to me. Just need one more win.’’
Ferentz believes there is more to come for Wadley, who will follow the Pinstripe Bowl by joining teammate Sean Welsh in playing next month in the Senior Bowl.
“It’s been growth all along the way, every step you have seen the signs, but didn’t see the consistency,’’ Ferentz said. “His best football is still ahead of him. Hopefully Wednesday night is his best football. After that, I think he’ll just keep getting better as long as he keeps working hard.’’
Wadley doesn’t lack motivation against Boston College.
When the game, and his Hawkeye career ends, he’ll be headed home to nearby Newark, New Jersey, ready to live with the results in front of family and friends.
He’s spent the past few weeks trying to scrape up as many tickets as possible from teammates not using their full allotment, making certain that family and friends would have a rare chance to watch Wadley play close to home.
“I know I’ve got to have a good game. The pressure is on,’’ Wadley said. “I’m going home after the game, so if I don’t have a good game, I’m going to get teased, get joked on a lot.’’
He didn’t have to worry about that the only other time he competed for Iowa anywhere close to his family’s home.
Wadley rushed for 84 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Hawkeyes’ 14-7 win at Rutgers in 2017.
“It’s big time for me to be able to go out there and play. I have some aunties who don’t like to fly, so they couldn’t get out here to see me so this one is for them,’’ Wadley said. “It’s a chance to show them what I can do.’’