Former Iowa Running Backs Have Long Roads, But NFL Potential


Shonn Green showed the nation how to get up when he got knocked down. Unfortunately for three former Iowa star freshmen running backs, the road will no longer go through Iowa City. What once appeared to be a fearsome trio at the University of Iowa has turned into a large group of question marks. Running backs Brandon Wegher, Jewel Hampton, and Adam Robinson all started off their collegiate careers with a bang, but it won’t be their introduction to the spotlight that earns them a trip to the big time, it will be whether or not they can bounce back from a series of unfortunate events.

27 Jewel Hampton (RS Junior), 5’9″ 210 (Transferred to Southern Illinois, 21)

Hampton was part of the Iowa team in 2008 that featured star running back Shonn Greene, who would go on to earn Heisman consideration and win the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back. While Greene was dominant, he was given the opportunity to take a breather courtesy of Jewel Hampton, the freshman sensation who had 463 yards and a then freshman record seven rushing touchdowns. Hampton is a “bowling ball” style back with the ability to keep plays alive. However, as he was preparing in the Spring for his sophomore season and first as the full time starter, he went down with a knee injury and was given a medical redshirt. Hampton came back in 2010 and was expected to team up with Adam Robinson as one of the best running back tandems in the Big Ten. He was off to a solid start with 114 yards and one touchdown before he went down again in the second game, effectively ending his redshirt sophomore season. Hampton will now play for the Southern Illinois Salukis where hopefully he can turn his career around, back to the way it was in 2008 where he was electric as a reserve for the Hawkeyes. He was suspended one game in 201o for being cited in a bar fight, but had he stuck around at Iowa long enough, he might have had the inside track at the Hawkeyes’ starting job next year since Adam Robinson is now gone. If he can be productive at SIU for a year or two, and show that his knees are healthy enough, I think he is a worthy candidate as a potential NFL running back. He has the physical ability and obviously the desire to play, but can his knee hold up? Will his personal and emotional life get in the way?

32 Adam Robinson (RS Junior), 5’9″ 205 (Will Transfer)

After being suspended for the Insight Bowl for marijuana possession, Robinson was kicked off the team for good. While he vowed to do his best to earn back the coaches’ trust and get his grades up, the Iowa coaching staff (namely, Kirk Ferentz) shut the door on any possibility for Robinson to return to the program after two solid years as the team’s featured back. Robinson’s Iowa career started off with a redshirt season, and his first year of actual playing time, he showed he is more than capable of handling the full load at a top tier school. Robinson’s career started off by splitting carries with a couple of other young backs, and he had his first 100 yard game in a win against the Arizona Wildcats early in the season. His 108 yards on 18 carries were highlighted with two touchdown runs, and it seemed then that a star was born. Robinson went on to have a couple of other solid games as the back the Hawks turned to when they needed tough yardage, but he was splitting carries with fellow freshman Brandon Wegher, who was the team’s big play back. Robinson would only have one 100 yard game the rest of the season in a close win against Michigan State, as the Hawkeyes struggled to get out to early leads in games and were forced to throw the ball more than they wanted to. He would miss a couple of games with injuries, but nothing too major. Leading up to the 2010 season, he was expected to team up with the aforementioned Hampton and the soon to be discussed Brandon Wegher. However, when Hampton blew out his other ACL in practice and Wegher left the team for personal reasons, the spotlight was on Robinson, a redshirt sophomore who had 834 yards and five touchdowns the year before.

Robinson really answered the call in 2010 becoming the Hawkeyes’ featured back. Against Eastern Illinois in week one, he ran the ball 24 times for 109 yards and a whopping three touchdowns. Robinson’s dominance would continue, as he would go on to run for over 100 yards in six of the 10 games that he played, en route to a season where he tallied 941 yards and 10 touchdowns. Not only that, but Robinson showed excellent developments as a receiver, catching 24 passes for 290 yards and one touchdown. Sadly, Robinson would miss two games due to injury, which really hurt the Hawkeyes late in the season because of their already thin running back depth. He would then be suspended for the team’s bowl game against Missouri because he was caught with marijuana. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz took it a step further–he kicked Robinson off the team completely. Now, he is searching for a place to go next year and play football. If he goes to a D1 school, he will likely just have one year of eligibility left. If he goes to a smaller school, he would potentially be able to play for a couple more years, but he doesn’t have a ton left to prove. Robinson is a powerful back with deceptive speed who can help your team in a variety of ways. It’s sad to see his career as a Hawkeye ending, but his football career is far from over.

3 Brandon Wegher (Junior), 5’11” 205 (Transferred to Oklahoma, declared ineligible)

Wegher might be the saddest story of them all, and he also might be the most talented. One of the most decorated running back recruits to come to Iowa in recent memory, Wegher is extremely gifted and the most prolific runner in Iowa high school history. Coming to Iowa, Wegher was expected to make an immediate impact. He definitely did that. The speedy, powerful freshman stepped up in the wake of Jewel Hampton’s injury, and showed the Hawkeye faithful what he was capable of. In his first college game, Wegher ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against bitter rival Iowa State. He went on to have 641 yards and an Iowa freshman record eight touchdowns on the season, including an excellent performance in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech where he had 113 yards and a touchdown. Wegher reminds me a lot of a “Reggie Bush” type of player. He might not be the athlete Bush is, but he is about the same size, and he combines speed, agility, and excellent versatility. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and he could be a top tier kick or punt returner if the team would put him back there. He is a playmaker in every sense of the word, which is why it’s so disheartening that he had to leave the team for “personal reasons” in Fall 2010. After not being reinstated to the Iowa football team, Wegher opted to transfer to Oklahoma to play for the Sooners, where he could have had an instant impact. That didn’t last long, as the NCAA ruled him ineligible for the transfer. Now, there are rumors that Wegher could resurface somewhere close to home, perhaps at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, or possibly a place like the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, which is about 15 minutes away from his home. No matter what he does, it’s important for Wegher to get his head on straight and get back on the football field. He has an NFL future if he can prepare himself mentally.

For Iowa fans, it’s sad that none of these guys will be back with the team ever again. What could have been the best running back trio in all of college football has been disbanded into a bunch of question marks. These three guys could have NFL futures if they dedicate themselves, and the optimist in me believes they will. Whether you see their names surface in the 2012 crop of players or the 2013 group, they are a few names to be on the lookout for, and guys I really believe in.