Stevenson grad Weisman is a big hit as running back at Iowa

Can there be a better conference for running backs in 2014 than the Big Ten?

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford are straight-up stars. David Cobb is Minnesota’s best back in nearly a decade. Tevin Coleman,is on the verge of a major breakout at Indiana.

Northwestern’s Venric Mark and Illinois’ Josh Ferguson are pretty terrific, too.

And did we mention the nice Jewish boy from Stevenson High School who’s tougher to bring down than any of them?

If you’re an Iowa Hawkeyes football fan, what you love about Mark Weisman is, well, everything.

The 2010 graduate of Stevenson High, who spent a semester at Air Force — the only school to offer him a scholarship — is a walk-on success story gone wild.

At 6-foot and 240 pounds, he’s a boulder with feet. He’s said to live in the weight room, but his grade-point average is far too high for that to be the case. Behind the scenes, Weisman’s teammates still flip out over his feats of strength and toughness. On campus, this son of a podiatrist is something of a cult hero.

“The fans are a little crazy and over the top,” Weisman said, “but it’s all fun and games. I love the fans, and I love the support I get.”

What’s not to support? Weisman, a 22-year-old senior, once was buried behind four Iowa fullbacks.

Then, in an early-season game in 2012, he was installed as the emergency No. 3 running back. Guess how many guys ahead of him got hurt that afternoon?

Talk about an unexpected opportunity.

“You could say that again,” said Weisman’s father, Larry, who goes a mean 5-7, 158.

The Weismans have reveled in the good times ever since. Many running backs rush for more yards — Weisman went for 975 with eight touchdowns in 2013 — but none are more fun to watch doing it.

“He can be an all-world fullback,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “but he’s also a pretty good running back. On top of which, you’re not going to find a nicer, harder-working kid. He trains unbelievably hard. Everything he does is just high-quality.”

Weisman still gets his share of licks in as a blocker, but his surprise story is as a runner who’ll enter the season No. 1 on the depth chart — and it’s not as though Iowa is thin at the position anymore.

Quite the contrary. Ferentz says as many as four Hawkeyes backs will share the carries, but we already know who’ll get the ball on third-and-one.

Hint: He’ll probably get the first down and take a good five or six victims to the ground with him.

The Big Ten’s more decorated running backs are faster, no doubt, but Weisman sets the tone for the Hawkeyes — who think they can out-physical any opponent in the conference this season — with collisions unlike any others.

“It’s definitely different trying to tackle him,” said Nebraska safety Corey Cooper, a sturdy 6-1, 215-pounder. “You don’t want to do it by yourself. He’s huge. You need help bringing that guy down. That’s a tough boy.”

Weisman has the Big Ten’s best offensive lineman, tackle Brandon Scherff, helping his cause. You might’ve noticed recently when a video of Scherff’s own weightlifting prowess went viral. This potential NFL first-round draft pick’s inspiration when he’s pumping iron? Routinely, it’s Weisman.

It’s the same thing on the field.

“He’s one guy who’s not afraid of contact, I’ll put it that way,” Scherff said. “If you’re in his way, you’d probably better get lower than him.”

Iowa opens its season on Saturday, Aug. 30, at home against Northern Iowa.

A BLAST FROM MARK WEISMAN’S PAST

On September 17, 2009, then-Stevenson High senior. Mark Weisman rushed 45 times for 269 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ 31-21 victory over Lake Forest. He finished the season with 253 carries for 1,657 yards and 22 TDs for a 10-1 Stevenson squad.

His junior year at Stevenson, Weisman rushed for 1,149 yards on 182 carries and scored 16 touchdowns.

AREA GRADS ON BIG 1O CONFERENCE ROSTERS

Northwestern Wildcats

Matt Micucci (Stevenson) — sophomore K/P
Mike Panico (Carmel) — sophomore RB
Wisconsin Badgers
T.J. Edwards (Lakes) — freshman LB

Illinois Fighting Illini

Jason Goldsmith (Highland Park) — freshman LB

Iowa Hawkeyes

Mark Weisman (Stevenson) — senior RB
Faith Ekakitie (LF Academy) — sophomore DL
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Jack Lynn (Lake Zurich) — redshirt sophomore LB

Michigan Wolverines

Bo Dever (Lake Forest) — redshirt sophomore WR
Michigan State Spartans
Matt Morrissey (Stevenson) — freshman DB

Ohio State Buckeyes

Logan Gaskey (Stevenson) — sophomore LB
Evan Spencer (Vernon Hills) — senior WR
Maryland Terrapins
Joe Marchese (Stevenson) — redshirt freshman OL BIG TEN DIVISION PLAY

West Division

Illinois (open 8/30, host Youngstown State)
Northwestern (open 8/30, host California)
Purdue (open 8/30, host Western Michigan)
Wisconsin (open 8/30 at LSU)
Minnesota (open 8/28, host Eastern Illinois)
Iowa (open 8/30, host Northern Iowa)
Nebraska (open 8/30, host Florida Atlantic)

East Division

Maryland (open 8/30, host James Madison from Virg)
Rutgers (open 8/28 at Washington State)
Penn State (open 8/30 at Central Florida)
Ohio State (open 8/30 at Navy)
Indiana (open 8/30, host Indiana State)
Michigan (open 8/30, host Appalachian State from North Car.)
Michigan State (open 8/29, host Jacksonville State from Alabama)

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