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Campbell, Hawkeyes plan to cherish the moment

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IOWA CITY — For four years, Jack Campbell has joined hands with teammates and they have taken the field together before the start of every Iowa football game.

As is tradition, the senior linebacker will enter Kinnick Stadium on his own Friday.

He’ll be one of 27 Hawkeye seniors who will be introduced prior to the 3 p.m. game against Nebraska, making one last trot onto the turf in an Iowa uniform.

Coach Kirk Ferentz and family members will be at midfield to congratulate each for completing the race, a group that has helped the Hawkeyes win more than 71% of their games over the past five seasons.

“Being able to swarm with guys in their fourth and fifth year, it really means a lot," Campbell said. “I never really thought about it being my last time, but it does go fast and I’m going to cherish every moment."

With the chance to earn a second straight Big Ten West Division championship on the line in the Heroes Game match-up against the Cornhuskers, Campbell is determined to keep his attention on being ready for his final game at Kinnick Stadium.

“I’m going to be focused on the things that I’ve got to be focused on," Campbell said. “But at the same time, I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to give my parents hugs and let them know and thank them for everything they’ve done for me."

A finalist for the Butkus Award presented to college football’s top linebacker and for the William V. Campbell Trophy awarded to the top scholar-athlete in all levels of college football, Campbell leads the Big Ten in tackles and leads Iowa in so many ways.

“He sets the example that all of us follow," Iowa defensive back Sebastian Castro said. “On the field, off the field, if you do things the way Jack Campbell does them you’re going to put yourself in a pretty good position."

Campbell has had 10 or more tackles in seven games during Iowa’s 7-4 season and with 110 stops this season, he has risen from 81st to 20th on the Hawkeyes’ career tackle charts.

His approach remains humble and Campbell shares any of the success he’s had with his teammates, coaches and support staff members including academic counselors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning personnel.

“They all make such a difference and have helped me become the person I am," Campbell said.

Time has created an additional bond with the other senior linebacker in the Iowa lineup, Seth Benson.

“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around," Campbell said. “One of the most determined guys, loves to prove people wrong. He’s pushed me day in and day out and he’ll have my utmost respect for the rest of my life."

Underclassmen appreciate the leadership provided by the entire senior class.

“There are some great leaders in that group," sophomore defensive end Lukas Van Ness said, listing Campbell and Benson at the linebacker spots, John Waggoner and Joe Evans on the defensive line and Riley Moss and Kaevon Merriweather in the secondary.

“They lead the way. More than anything, they set the standard. Coach (Kelvin) Bell has a quote that says you need a model, not a critic. Those seniors are models. They show us the way … and that is why we’ve been able to produce these last four, five weeks."

Ferentz said collectively, that has been a significant contribution of this year’s senior class.

“You have guys that are rather well known, household names in our state, but you have a lot of other guys, too, that maybe aren’t as well known but they’re all very valuable," Ferentz said.

“You have Jack Campbell making a big play, but you also have a guy like Tom Hartlieb who has done a great job for four years on the scout team helping us prepare. Everybody has a role and if you’re going to have a good football team, you have a lot of guys filling those roles."

And this year’s senior class has dealt with it all.

They’ve been part of 10-win teams in 2019 and 2021, helped the program navigate through a racial-bias investigation in the summer of 2020, a year when COVID-19 first canceled and then delayed a shortened season and had players going through daily testing for the coronavirus.

They’ve experienced plenty of good, earning a Big Ten West Division title in 2021 and taking the field Friday on the brink of accomplishing that again as well as earning a second straight Big Ten title game berth.

And, they’ve navigated their way through a 3-4 start to the current season and criticism that went along with the team’s slow offensive start this fall.

All of it has shaped the group of seniors who will be recognized Friday.

“We’ve been through a lot together, going back to 2020 and everything that was last year," quarterback Spencer Petras said. “Last year, this year, we’ve been through a lot but I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to be with."

The majority of the 27 seniors who will be honored do have an additional year of eligibility available because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ferentz said those discussions and decisions will be made once the regular season is over.

“Right now, go and be honored. They deserve it," Ferentz said.

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