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Iowa has a rock star in granite RB Mark Weisman

Iowfullback Mark Weisman (45) runs from Minnesotdefenders James Manuel (9) Derrick Wells (13) during first half an NCAA college football

Iowa fullback Mark Weisman (45) runs from Minnesota defenders James Manuel (9) and Derrick Wells (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Updated: July 30, 2014 1:46PM

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, a home run hitter who attended Oak Forest, 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 Buffalo Grove who’s tougher to bring down than any of them?

If you’re an Iowa fan, what you love about Mark Weisman is, well, everything. The Stevenson alum, 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 feet 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 who played at Proviso East. ‘‘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 last week 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.’’


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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