IOWA CITY (AP) — When Iowa defensive lineman Parker Hesse calls his teammate Josey Jewell “obnoxiously competitive,” he means it as a compliment.
Hesse said Jewell’s tenacity even extends to a tailgating game, bags, which was pretty much designed to be played with a drink in one hand and a beanbag in the other. But Hesse said Jewell is one of the best he’s ever seen at it because of the over-the-top focus Jewell brings to every toss — even reciting the score at each turn.
“It’s his competitive spirit. It’s just his will to win,” Hesse said. “He doesn’t lose at any cost.”
That intensity has helped make Jewell, once an overlooked high schooler from Decorah one of the nation’s best linebackers. And he’s been at his best as a senior.
Jewell, a preseason first-team All-American and the Big Ten’s leader in tackles this fall, put together one of the best box score lines in school history in last weekend’s heartbreaking 21-19 loss to No. 4 Penn State.
Jewell had 16 tackles, three of them for losses, along with two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception he returned 33 yards to set up Iowa’s first touchdown.
Jewell’s production is a product of his frenetic playing style, which has inspired teammates ever since he forced his way into the starting lineup as a freshman.
Jewell and the Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1) travel to face Michigan State (2-1, 0-0) on Saturday.
“It definitely takes a lot of stress off you, as a defense, just to have a guy like that who’s a middle linebacker who runs the defense. It’s his defense,” cornerback Josh Jackson said. “It’s good to have someone with his tenacity, his grit, running to the ball the way he did (against Penn State) ... we just try to use his energy to take the stress off of us.”
Jewell had no other FBS offers coming out of Decorah, but assistant Reese Morgan saw his potential.
Jewell turned out to be much better than even Iowa’s coaches expected — earning all-league honors as a sophomore and junior — and his vision combined with a commitment to film study are two major reasons why.
According to linebacker Ben Niemann, Jewell is an expert is using film to prepare for game-day scenarios, allowing him to play much faster on Saturday than he might test out in offseason evaluations.
Jewell’s knowledge, vision and athleticism were especially evident on his interception against the Nittany Lions.
Jewell dropped into coverage, read quarterback Trace McSorley’s eyes perfectly, saw that McSorley would be pressured by a blind-side blitz and was so prepared for a return after making the pick that he nearly brought it back for a touchdown.
“Some players just have that (vision) and Josey has had that knack, plus he’s got that inner drive that you can’t measure at a combine,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s probably why we almost blew it in recruiting him. We weren’t seeing it ... but Josey’s got that factor to him.
Jewell has been the lynchpin for a trio of linebackers, including Niemann and Bower, who’ve led the program to wins in 23 of its last 31 games.
But they’re all seniors, and Jewell has shown so far that he plans to make his last season in Iowa City his finest.
“Any play could be your last play. So play like it is your last play. I don’t think that’s really changed,” Jewell said. “But you definitely know that the end is coming near, and it kind of sucks. But you don’t want to regret anything in life, so keep on going 100 percent.”