April 3, 2008
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Not unlike opposing ball carriers, when the potshotting preseason naysayers babble about perceived deficiencies within the University of Iowa football ranks, they stop in their tracks when referencing the interior of the Hawkeye defensive front.
Around Big Ten Conference football circles, the letters KO soon will be replaced when referring to a knockout tackle. Instead the letters KK -- representing King and Kroul -- provide a more adequate substitute. Seniors Mitch King (Burlington, Iowa/Burlington) and Matt Kroul (Mount Vernon, Iowa/Mount Vernon) will be four-year starters when the 2008 season begins. Both are physical specimens -- Kroul is 6-foot-3, 277 pounds and King is 6-3, 264. Both are using spring practice to springboard into a successful 2008 fall campaign.
"It was all last season that motivated us to work hard this off-season and get back on the field as fast as possible," King said. "We know what date it is and we're preparing for that first game and we're just working hard"
Last season King was named first-team all-Big Ten Conference by the coaches and Rivals.com. Kroul was named honorable mention all-conference by the coaches and both King and Kroul received Hawkeye Hustle Awards at the team's postseason banquet.
Last season the Hawkeyes (6-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) won three of their final four games and three in a row to become bowl-eligible for a seventh consecutive season. But a season-ending 28-19 loss at home to Western Michigan kept the UI home for the holidays.
"You're pretty-much remembered by your last game," Kroul said. "It left a bad taste in our mouth. We were so close to getting someplace we wanted to go -- another bowl."
Last season Kroul recorded 74 tackles (23 solo, 51 assists) with two tackles for loss and a pass breakup. King made 58 stops (25 solo, 33 assists) with 14 ½ tackles for loss, 4 ½ quarterback sacks and seven pass breakups. They are two of five starters returning to the vaunted Hawkeye defense that a year ago was 12th in the nation in scoring defense (18.8 points per game), 24th in rushing defense (122.0 yards per game) and 36th in total defense (351.17 yards per game).
On at least two occasions during the spring, UI head coach Kirk Ferentz has said that all starting positions are up for grabs -- except the defensive tackle spots which will be solidified by King and Kroul for a fourth straight season. The preseason vote of security from Coach Ferentz has actually served as motivation to King and Kroul.
"You're still trying to be a leader of the team and he puts that on your shoulders," Kroul said. "That motivates you to show guys what it takes to be a player and what they need to do to play at this level."
"One thing you can't take for granted is playing time," King said. "If you're not being productive or if you're not doing your job, there is always someone behind you. We have to work just as hard as the next guy to earn our spot back."
So far, according to King, the Hawkeyes have been working the kinks out during the first few spring practices. Kroul expects the squad to jell more by the Coca-Cola Iowa Football Spring Game on Saturday, April 19, beginning at 1 p.m. inside Kinnick Stadium. It will be the final spring game for two stalwart defensive tackles who have become known as a package deal -- as in `King and Kroul on the stop' or `Kroul and King applied the defensive pressure on that play.'
"We've been playing long enough together that we kind of feed off each other," King said. "We do better together than we do separate."
"It's fun playing next to him," Kroul said. "We both have different styles and we feed off each other."
The pair has different personal highlights when it comes to starting on the interior defensive line for the UI.
"Just being out there when that crowd goes crazy," Kroul said. "It's more pressure on us helping the young linebackers out, but I kind of like that pressure of taking the young guys under our wing."
"You're always going forward and you're hitting every play, so that's the biggest thing for me," King said. "I only have to focus on one thing and one thing only."
King is using spring practices to recognize blocking schemes quicker and react to blocks faster. Kroul is working on technique and said he wants to be a team leader and hustle all the time.
Since the two are homegrown Hawkeyes, they understand -- possibly more than most -- what it means to wear the black and gold.
"I always watched the Hawkeyes as a kid," Kroul said. "Living a half hour away, you always heard about them and it was a dream come true and this was a chance of a lifetime to play here."
"This is very enjoyable for me," King said. "When I go back home -- my newspaper is the Hawk Eye. It's fun because all my family and friends have been Hawkeye fans growing up. It's fun being that guy who plays for the University of Iowa."
For his career, Kroul has 181 tackles (71 solo, 110 assists) with 13 tackles for loss and five sacks. King has been in on 174 tackles (96 solo, 78 assists) with 39 ½ tackles for loss and 13 ½ sacks.
Iowa opens the regular season Saturday, Aug. 30, against Maine.
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