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July 24, 2014

Iowa's Mt. Rushmore: OG

There are some great and historic players that made their mark at the University of Iowa playing in the trenches at offensive guard. From a legendary name like Calvin Jones to a more modern success story in Eric Steinbach, the Hawkeyes have an impressive four names on the Mt. Rushmore at offensive guard.

As you can imagine, it was difficult to narrow the field down to a list of nominees and finally pick the four faces of the Hawkeye Football program at each position. Our voting panel consisted of Tom Kakert and Blair Sanderson from HawkeyeReport.com, Lyle Hammes, who has written two books on the history of Hawkeye Football, and Mike Hlas, Marc Morehouse and Scott Dochterman from the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Our thanks to Lyle Hammes for helping complete some of the bios for this project.

Here are the four former Hawkeyes on the Mt. Rushmore at offensive guard

Calvin Jones

Cal Jones played when Iowa was just on the cusp of greatness under Coach Forest Evashevski. How he came to Iowa, however, is quite a story in itself. Cal Jones, Eddie Vincent, and Frank Gilliam were all good friends who would become known as the "Steubenville Trio". Vincent and Gilliam were signed to go to Iowa and stopped to see Jones before they left Steubenville, Ohio for Iowa City. Jones, who was signed to go to Ohio State, decided to forget the Buckeyes and come to Iowa City to be with his friends. Woody Hayes was furious and Forest Evashevski was thrilled, because Cal Jones was going to be a Hawkeye. As an individual player, Jones exemplified great toughness and athletic ability. In 1953 he earned All-American honors for the first of three consecutive years. There was perhaps no player in the country at that time who dominated play the way Calvin Jones did. 1953 highlights include the infamous "Fainting Irish" game, in which Iowa tied No. 1-ranked Notre Dame. Iowa finished 5-3-1 that year, followed by 5-4 in 1954. Iowa's record dropped to 3-5-1 in 1955, but Cal Jones hauled in post season honors again. For the third year in a row, Jones received First Team All-American recognition. He is still the only Iowa player to achieve such high acclaim. In 1955, he was chosen on 15 different All-American teams and won the Outland Trophy. Forest Evashevski called Jones the greatest lineman he ever coached.

Jones went on to play only one year professionally in Canada. Tragically, he was killed in an airplane crash on December 8th, 1956. He had overslept for an airplane flight that morning, and instead took a small plane that evening. An hour into the flight, it crashed in a Canadian mountain range. This was only one week before Iowa left to go play in their first Rose Bowl ever. With Cal Jones on the mind of every Iowa player, the Hawkeyes went on to handily beat Oregon State.

There are only two retired jersey numbers in the University of Iowa football program. The first is Nile Kinnick, and the second is Cal Jones. That speaks for itself.

John Niland

Similar to Mark Manders and Jon Meskimen, John Niland started college football at fullback before moving to guard. In all three cases the move paid off with great individual success. Under Head Coach Jerry Burns, however, it was a difficult time for the Hawkeyes. Iowa went 7-18-2 through Niland's career, but his line play was a bright spot in the program. As a junior, he was Second Team All-Big Ten and Second Team All-American. In 1965 he lived up to his pre-season First Team All-American honors. In 1989, Niland was selected to the all-time University of Iowa football team.

Niland had a very successful NFL career from 1966 to 1975. He was selected as the 5th overall pick in the 1966 draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He played in Dallas through 1974 and then one year for the Philadelphia Eagles. Niland played in six Pro Bowls over his career.

Eric Steinbach

Eric Steinbach was multi-sport standout athlete from the Chicago area in high school and actually played tight end during that time. After redshirting in his freshman year, Steinbach started four games at guard in 1999 as the Iowa program tried to rebuild. In 2000, Steinbach battled injuries basically all season long and saw limited game action. The injury bug continued in 2001, when he missed three games due to a dislocated elbow. Despite the injury, Steinbach still earned first team All Big Ten honors from the conference coaches. Finally in 2002, Steinbach stayed healthy for the entire year and that was all the coaches and media needed to see. He was a dominant performer all season long at guard, paving the way for one of the most productive offenses in school history. He was a consensus All American, first team All Big Ten performer, and was named Offensive Lineman of the Year by the Big Ten Conference. Steinbach was drafted in the 2nd round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Joe Devlin

Joe Devlin played for both Frank Lauterbur and Bob Commings while at Iowa. 1973 was a most forgettable year, as Iowa finished with no wins against 11 losses to close out Lauterbur's time in Iowa City. With Michigan, UCLA, Penn State, and Southern California as Iowa's first four opponents in 1974, things didn't figure to get much better. Iowa did manage to beat UCLA, Northwestern, and Ilinois to break the long losing streak. Iowa again won three games in 1975. Team success was hard to come by in the 1960s and 1970s. Individually, both Joe Devlin and Rod Walters were selected First Team All-Americans in 1975. Devlin was then selected in the second round of the 1976 NFL Draft, and played for the Buffalo Bills from 1976 to 1989. Joe Devlin is a cousin of former Iowa player Mike Devlin.

The rest of the nominees at offensive guard:

Bob Kratch

Bob Kratch came to the Iowa program from the east coast during the time when Hayden Fry had the Hawkeyes flying high in the Big Ten and on a national level. It didn't take long for Kratch to work his way into the Iowa lineup on the offensive line. Most of his time was spent at offensive guard, but he also saw time at tackle. He earned first team All Big Ten honors in 1986 and 1988 and was a team captain in his final year at Iowa. Kratch was then drafted by the New York Giants in 1989 and was part of the Giants Super Bowl winning team his second year in the NFL.

Mark Manders

With both his father and uncle having played professionally, Mark Manders received his football passion and skills honestly. He came to Iowa as a fullback, but Coach Evashevski quickly moved him to the pulling guard position.

During the 1959 Rose Bowl, Iowa lost the first and second-string guards. Unexpectedly, Manders was pushed into action by Coach Evashevski to replace the other two guards. It was particularly unexpected because he had missed the team bus to the Rose Bowl that morning, and had to hitch a ride from a motorcycle police officer. (To make it on time through all the traffic, Manders recalled the officer even turned his siren on and went down the Rose Bowl tunnel when they arrived.) Iowa won the Rose Bowl and finished 8-1-1 on the year. They went 5-4 his junior year of 1959, and then rose back up his senior year to go 8-1. Iowa was ranked No. 1 in the nation for three weeks in 1960 before losing at Minnesota 27-10. Manders was named All-Big Ten and First Team All-American as a senior. After leaving Iowa, he played three seasons of semi-pro football. Mark Manders passed away in 2011.

Francis Schammel

Francis "Zud" Schammel spent his first two seasons of college eligibility at Northern Iowa before joining the Hawkeyes prior to his junior season. Schammel played right tackle and fullback in 1932, but Coach Ossie Solem moved him to the guard position for his senior season in 1933. It was at this position that Schammel shined and became a Hawkeye legend. He suffered from a painful leg infection during the entire 1933 season that kept him hospitalized and on crutches five days a week, yet every Saturday he managed to not only suit up but dominate. Schammel earned All-Big Ten and First Team All-American honors as a senior for helping lead Iowa to a 4-2-2 record. He served as Solem's line coach at Iowa from 1934-1936 before playing one season with the Green Bay Packers in 1937. Schammel was inducted into the University of Iowa Hall of Fame in 2003

Wally Hilgenberg

Wally Hilgenberg has been called part of Iowa's "First Family" of offensive linemen. Wally is the younger brother of Jerry Hilgenberg, who starred in the 1950s. Jerry's sons (Jay, Jim, and Joel) all starred at Iowa in the 1970s and 1980s. Wally's son, Eric, also played in the 1990s.

At 6'-3" and 230 pounds, Wally Hilgenberg teamed up with Mike Reilly on the offensive line and at linebacker. Reilly was right guard and right linebacker, and Hilgenberg was left guard and left linebacker. Reilly and Hilgenberg were the same year in school and good friends. They formed one of the best Big Ten guard and linebacker duos of the 1960s. Hilgenberg and teammate Paul Krause were Iowa's co-captain his senior year. Wally was also named First Team All-Big Ten and Third Team All-American in 1963. He had a long NFL career with the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. Wally Hilgenberg was named Honorable Mention on the all-time University of Iowa football team. He retired in Minnesota and passed away in 2008.

Jon Meskimen

Jon Meskimen is a Cedar Rapids native who played at Iowa from 1966 to 1969. Meskimen says he came to Iowa as a fullback, but only played there for literally one day. "I'd kind of eaten my way out of the fullback position to an offensive guard position, and that's where I played each year in college," Meskimen said in a 2010 interview. He played in two games his freshman year, which happened to be Ray Nagel's first year as head coach. The first game he started was against Notre Dame his sophomore year. Iowa went 5-5 his junior and senior years, which was pretty good for that era of Iowa football. They were lean years at Iowa, but Meskimen was named First Team All-Big Ten his final two seasons and was named team captain his senior year.

Though Meskimen had aspirations of professional football, he was somewhat limited by his height. Instead, he stayed on for two years as a graduate assistant while he finished his degrees. From there, he became a high school head football coach and teacher. Meskimen still resides in Iowa City.



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