The HawkeyeReport.com Mt. Rushmore series continues this week with our look at the best running backs in Iowa Football history. The list of contenders was a long one and picking four names was extremely difficult. The four names on our Mt. Rushmore include the all time leading rusher, a Doak Walker Award winner, a legendary Hawkeye, and one of the most productive backs in Iowa history.
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.
Please note, one back (Owen Gill) was moved to fullback and Ozzie Simmons, Ronnie Harmon, and Nile Kinnick were moved to our all purpose category.
Here are the four faces of Iowa Football at RB:
Sedrick Shaw was as good as it gets for an Iowa running back during his career. Shaw is currently the all-time leading rusher in Iowa Football history with 4,156 yards and had 33 rushing touchdowns. To say that Shaw was a workhorse back would be putting it mildly with 837 carries in his Iowa career. He had two games in his career where he had over 40 carries. Against Michigan State in 1995 he rushed 42 times for 250 yards. Later that season he ran 41 times for 214 yards against Wisconsin. Shaw rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons at Iowa. He was named first team all Big Ten in his senior year and was MVP of Iowa's Sun Bowl win over Washington in 1995 and Alamo Bowl win over Texas Tech in 1996. Shaw was a third round draft pick by New England and played three years in the NFL.
Hard to believe, but at one point, Iowa toyed with the idea of moving Shonn Greene to safety so they could get him on the field. Thankfully for the Hawkeyes the move didn't take and after struggling with academics, Greene returned to the Iowa program in 2008 and had perhaps the greatest season ever by an Iowa running back. Greene ended that year with 1,805 yards rushing and a single season school record, 20 touchdowns. He had a pair of 200 rushing contests in 2008, 217 against Wisconsin and 211 against Purdue. Greene was honored at the end of the season with Doak Walker Award, which annually goes to the top running back in the country. He was also named 1st team All American honors and was named Big Ten MVP by the Chicago Tribune. Greene earned MVP honors in the 2009 Outback Bowl and declared for the NFL Draft, where he was picked by the New York Jets.
In a down era for Iowa Football, Ladell Betts was a huge bright spot. Given the rebuilding program that was on-going during the late 90's and early 2000's, Betts numbers seem even more remarkable. Betts finished is Iowa career with 3,686 yards and 25 touchdowns and on most Saturday's, opponents were game planning to stop him. Betts also had over 700 yards receiving in his Iowa career. He was a 2nd team All Big Ten selection in his final two seasons at Iowa. Betts was the first back in Iowa Football history to lead the team in rushing for four straight seasons. He was a 2nd round draft pick by the Washington Redskins in the 2002 NFL Draft and had a nice career with them before retiring in 2010.
Ed Podolak attended Iowa when the program was in a tailspin. Iowa endured a 15-quarter scoring drought in 1966 before Podolak snapped the streak with a throwing touchdown, a two-point conversion, and an 87-yard touchdown against Northwestern. He played quarterback until a concussion temporarily sidelined him in 1968. Reserve Larry Lawrence took over, and Podolak's quarterbacking days were done. He was moved to running back where he presented a run-pass option. In his first game at tailback, Iowa beat Wisconsin 41-0 for only their second win in the last 28 Big Ten games. Iowa rushed for 319 yards two weeks later. Against Northwestern, Podolak set a Big Ten record with 286 rushing yards. He scored two touchdowns and completed a 34-yard pass before leaving the game midway through the fourth quarter with an injury. Iowa closed out 1968 with a close loss to No. 1 Ohio State. It was a significant step forward for the program, led by Podolak, who was named All-Big Ten, Team captain, and Team MVP. Podolak also set what was then Iowa's career total offense record.
Ed Podolak went on to a brilliant pro career with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he has served as Iowa's color commentator for over 30 years.
Here are the rest of our nominees:
Fred Russell wasn't the biggest running back in Iowa history. In fact, he might be one for the smallest, standing about 5-foot-6 inches tall. But, there are a few who were more productive and had a bigger heart than Russell. He is a native of Michigan, but came to Iowa via Milford Academy in 2000. Russell saw limited action in his first two years at Iowa, but in 2002, he shared time with Jermelle Lewis and the tandem ran over just about every opponent on the schedule. In that season, he was named first team All Big Ten and the following year he was named to the 2nd team. Russell finished his Iowa career with 2,760 yards and 17 touchdowns. His rushing total currently ranks 5th all-time in Iowa Football history. In 2002, he had a career best 194 yards rushing against Minnesota and he rushed for over 100 yards 13 times in his career. Russell rushed for 150 yards in Iowa's 2004 Outback Bowl win over Florida, earning MVP honors for the bowl game.
Bob Jeter grew up in Weirton, West Virginia, before coming to Iowa to play for Coach Forest Evashevski. Jeter played on Iowa's second Rose Bowl team, starring in arguably the deepest, most talented backfield ever assembled in Iowa City. He led the group in rushing at 7.2 yards per carry, with Willie Fleming just behind at 7.1. Jeter ran for 194 yards on only nine carries versus Cal in the 1959 Rose Bowl, including an 81-yard touchdown. His total yardage and touchdown run were both Rose Bowl records and earned him MVP honors. Jeter earned All-Big Ten honors in 1959 and later had a standout NFL career for Coach Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. Jeter played for the Packer teams that won the 1965 NFL championship and Super Bowls I and II.
Larry Ferguson played sparingly as a sophomore behind running backs Bob Jeter and Ray Jauch. He exploded onto the scene his junior year with a season that in some regards is yet to be matched by an Iowa running back. Long touchdown runs were Ferguson's trademark; in 1960 alone, he had touchdown runs of 85 and 91 yards (with a 58-yard score negated by a penalty). He returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown, and he returned a punt 51 yards. His season average of 7.4 yards per carry still stands as an Iowa record. It earned him All-Big Ten and First Team All-American honors in 1960. The competition was also unmatched, as every one of Iowa's nine opponents in 1960 spent at least one week in the top 12 of the national rankings. Iowa rose to No. 1 in the polls for three weeks, and squared off against No. 2 Minnesota (a 27-10 loss) and then beat No. 3 Ohio State 35-12. Iowa finished 8-1 on the season.
Ferguson's senior season consisted of only three carries for 35 yards before he suffered a severe knee injury. He was granted a medical hardship year and was able to return in 1962. He achieved All-Big Ten status again, was named Team Captain, and was also Team MVP. Unfortunately he never regained his pre-injury form.
During the early years of the Hayden Fry era, Eddie Phillips was one of the top players on the Hawkeye team. The Chicago native was one of the most effective running backs of Fry's tenure at Iowa, rushing for 2,177 yards in his Hawkeye career. Phillips scored 19 touchdowns and earned 2nd team All Big Ten honors in his career at Iowa. In his junior year in the early 80's, Phillips rushed for a career best 198 yards against Minnesota. The following year against the Gophers, Phillips rushed for a 172 yards on just 17 carriers. In that game, Phillips ripped off an 80 yard touchdown run on Iowa's first offensive play of the game.
Dennis Mosley's Iowa career really took off when Hayden Fry arrived in Iowa City, earning 1st team All American and All Big Ten honors in 1979. Mosley was the first player in Iowa Football history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season in 1979 when he ran for 1,267 yards and 12 touchdowns. That single season mark stood until 1995. The career game for Mosley was back in September of 1979 when he ran wild against Iowa State, rushing for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 39 carries.
There are those who have been long time observers of Iowa Football who would tell you that Tavian Banks is the most exciting running back they have seen. Iowa had a huge recruiting win when they were able to keep the Bettendorf native home. Banks rushed for 2,977 yards in his Iowa career and scored 33 touchdowns, which is tied for the school record. In 1997, Banks rushed for 314 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa, which still stands as a single game school record for rushing yards in a single game. That season, Banks finished with 1,691 yards, which was the single season school record at the time. He also rushed for 17 touchdowns that year, which was also a school record. In 1997, Banks averaged an absurd 6.5 yards per carry. Banks earned 1st team All Big Ten honors in 1997, was named Big Ten offensive player of the year, and was also named 2nd team All American honors.
At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Nick Bell didn't have the traditional size of a tailback. But, there was nothing traditional about Bell, who was a handful for opposing defenses in the late 80's and early 90's. Bell combined his size with surprising speed to rip through the Big Ten on a regular basis. Bell rushed for 1,748 yards and 18 touchdowns in his Iowa career. His best season on the ground was his senior year when he ran for 1,009 yards and he found the end zone 12 times. In that season, he was honored as the MVP of the Big Ten and was a first team All American by at least one news service. His biggest game of that season was his 168 yards rushing, along with two touchdowns against Illinois. In his junior season, he rushed for 217 yards against Wisconsin. Bell was also a very good receiver, including a school record 13 receptions for 128 yards against Indiana in his sophomore season. Bell was a second round pick of the Los Angeles Raiders and played three years in the NFL.
The New Jersey native was a late flip to the Hawkeyes after initially committing to Wisconsin. Despite a few significant injuries, Young was one of the most productive backs around when he was healthy. He stands third all-time in Iowa Football history with 3,173 yards and also ran for 23 touchdowns. One of the hallmarks of Young's Iowa tenure was his versatility, with over 700 yards receiving. He rushed for over 100 yards 12 times in his Iowa career, including seven straight during the 2005 season. Young had a career best 202 yards rushing in 2005 against Northwestern. Another standout performance for Young was in 2007 when he rushed 34 times for 179 yards in a double OT win over Michigan State. He earned second team All Big Ten honors in 2005.
The Hawkeyes have picked up quite a few great players over the years out of the state of New Jersey and Tony Stewart was one of the best. Stewart was a big time recruit for the Hawkeyes and he lived up to the expectations, leaving the Iowa program with 2,562 yards rushing and scoring 17 touchdowns. Stewart was a key perform on Iowa's Rose Bowl team in 1990-91. During that season he ran for over 100 yards five times during the season. In 1988, Stewart was the first sophomore in Iowa Football history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. In that season he rushed for 194 yards against Iowa State. Stewart was a late round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 1991 NFL Draft and went on to play in the CFL for several seasons.