Dec. 28, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- The last postseason football appearance for the University of Iowa ended in defeat, but that night -- Dec. 30, 2011 -- had a silver lining. It marked the actual beginning of the career of senior Brett Van Sloten, who will make his 25th consecutive start at right tackle Wednesday in the Outback Bowl.
Van Sloten was thrown into the fire two seasons ago against No. 14 Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl when senior starter Markus Zusevics became ill. The Hawkeyes managed to outgain Oklahoma by 17 yards, but lost the game, 31-14.
"It was a lot of fun to get that first playing action, but unfortunately we fell a little short," Van Sloten said Saturday after practice at Jesuit High School. "We're hoping to get that taste out of our mouth in terms of bowl wins."
The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Van Sloten looked up to the upperclassmen on the 2011 team -- James Ferentz, Adam Gettis, Riley Reiff, and Matt Tobin -- when he was pressed into emergency action. Now it is Van Sloten who is leading younger Hawkeyes like Austin Blythe, Eric Simmons, and Ryan Ward.
"Brett Van Sloten embodies all things that are good about football and about college athletics. He wouldn't be the star at the combine. He won't be the guy who is off the charts, but he is a football player, a team guy, and an unbelievable leader. Players follow him and that's a guy you want them to follow. His agenda is pure and it's everything we want it to be. He is a hard-working, intelligent, tough-minded guy."
UI football coach
"That starts with guys I have looked up to, whether it has been Riley Reiff, Markus Zusevics, James Ferentz -- those guys are who I wanted to be like in terms of football," Van Sloten said. "They took care of business, they took care of their jobs, and led well. That is what I was looking to do and I hope I leave my footprint like they left their footprint. Thankfully we have had underclassmen buy into our junior and senior leadership. We're fortunate they bought into what the leaders wanted to get done this year. We need to stay collected for one more week and get the job done Jan. 1."
The Hawkeyes (8-4 overall) play No. 14 Louisiana State University (9-3) in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Raymond James Stadium. Van Sloten is more seasoned than he was in 2011, but this will be the first bowl start for the native of Decorah, Iowa, who is a permanent offensive team captain and a second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection by coaches.
"Brett Van Sloten embodies all things that are good about football and about college athletics," Ferentz said. "He wouldn't be the star at the combine. He won't be the guy who is off the charts, but he is a football player, a team guy, and an unbelievable leader. Players follow him and that's a guy you want them to follow. His agenda is pure and it's everything we want it to be. He is a hard-working, intelligent, tough-minded guy."
Like most games, the clash against LSU has potential to be decided in the trenches, where the Hawkeyes -- with Van Sloten's help -- have averaged 188.5 yards per game on the ground. The leading rusher for the Hawkeyes is junior Mark Weisman, who has gained 937 yards with seven touchdowns.
"He is one of those guys who is never going to let you down," Weisman said of Van Sloten. "He is a great teammate and leader for us and it has been a pleasure to be his teammate. I'm happy to have one more game with him."
Van Sloten was nervous in the 2011 Insight Bowl, and he still remembers the first play he was involved in -- "17 to the left" -- where he executed a backside block that allowed him to ease into the game.
"(Offensive line) coach (Reese) Morgan told me to calm down, I was shaking a little bit," Van Sloten said.
While the first few plays on that noteworthy Insight Bowl night are still moving slow motion in Van Sloten's mind, the last 24 games have flown past.
"We're looking forward to one more game as Iowa Hawkeyes, I'm thankful for the opportunity to play here," Van Sloten said. "It has been a great ride and Conor Boffeli, Nolan (MacMillan) and I on the offensive line are looking to cap it off and go out on a high note."