By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The special event that happened immediately after Kirk Ferentz’s weekly press conference on Tuesday wouldn’t have happened if Aaron Kampman had picked his other favorite school.
Slightly more than 20 years ago, Kampman was faced with the difficult task of choosing between staying home and playing football for Hayden Fry at Iowa or playing for Tom Osborne at Nebraska, which was arguably the top program in the nation at the time.
Kampman chose the Hawkeyes and now has the distinction of having played for both Fry and for Kirk Ferentz.
Kampman played for Fry as a true freshman in 1998, and then was a key piece to Ferentz’s rebuilding project at Iowa as a hard-charging defensive end.
“I thought about Nebraska for a while,” Kampman said at a press conference where he was announced by Farm Bureau as this year’s addition to the American Needs Farmers (ANF) Wall of Honor. “Because at that time, it was between coach Fry and coach Osborne.
“And coach Osborne retired the day before my official visit, and it made it very simple that I was going to play for coach Fry.”
Nebraska had been a national power for nearly three decades and was in the midst of incredible run of dominance when Osborne retired after the 1997 season. Osborne had led Nebraska to national titles in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
So it’s easy to see why Nebraska would have appealed to Kampman.
He was asked on Tuesday if it was a tough to choose between Iowa and Nebraska while Osborne still was coaching.
“I didn’t know,” Kampman said. “You’re a young kid. You’re trying to figure out where you want to go. I had one coach in the recruiting process tell me where you’re going to go play college ball is the third biggest decision in your life. And it is a big decision, especially when you’re a young kid.
“But yeah, it was between those two, and I’m so thankful that we chose, and I say we because it was a package deal, my wife’s back there and we were pretty serious all the way back then. I asked her to marry me at 19, believe it or not. That wouldn’t be our desire for our kids, but it worked out for us, though.”
So did his decision to attend Iowa.
Kampman suffered through three losing seasons, including a 1-10 record in Ferentz’s first season as head coach in 1999. But Kampman stayed the course and was eventually rewarded for it when Iowa finished 7-5 in 2001, capped by a 19-16 victory over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl.
Kampman then played for 10 seasons in the NFL, including the first eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers where he twice made second-team All-Pro and played in two Pro Bowls. He played his final two seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars before retiring in 2013.
Kampman has NFL memories that he will cherish forever, but his time at Iowa will always stand out to him because he helped lay the foundation under Ferentz, a foundation that still exists to this day.
“It’s extremely significant,” Kampman said. “I have a lot of memories of my NFL career and my collegiate career and my high school career. And one of my favorite all-time is that I feel like we left this place better than where we found it, and that I had a chance to be a part of that.
“And there were a lot of guys, it wasn’t just me by any means. There were all kinds of guys and coach Ferentz.”
Nebraska has had four different head coaches since Osborne retired and never has been the same, while Iowa has had just two head coaches since 1979 and has a 31-12 record since the start of the 2015 season.
Kampman told the media that he was glad he picked Iowa over Nebraska because of what has happened to both programs since he made his decision.
“Nebraska, in my opinion, started to tailspin a little bit,” Kampman said.
Ferentz told a story on Tuesday about when he asked Kampman to switch from playing middle linebacker to defensive end.
Ferentz thought he might get some resistance since Kampman already was starting at middle linebacker, but instead, Kampman embraced the move and was willing to do anything to help the team win.
“For Aaron, who is an established player, I thought that might not go so well,” Ferentz said. “He was more receptive to it. I think that's a really good illustration of the kind of guy Aaron is, a team guy all the way.
“He trusted us. Really didn't know us to that extent at that point. But he trusted us. It worked out well for everybody. I think he led the league in sacks his senior year.”
Kampman shared some stories with the media on Tuesday about growing up in the tiny northern Iowa town of Kesley and in a farming family that valued hard work and togetherness.
He is proud to represent his family and the farming community and will always cherish his place on the ANF Wall of Honor.
“This is pretty exciting for me personally and for my family,” Kampman said. “The ANF brand has definitely grown. I’ve been in Green Bay the last two weekends for some alumni events and I commented to my wife both times we've seen people with ANF gear on up in Wisconsin.
“So the brand is actually growing, and as I was contemplating that on Sunday night as I’m driving home, I think it really connects because of what we value in this state. We value hard work. We value team work, and we value getting better and getting things done.”
Kampman credits his parents, and his grandparents, for teaching him the value of hard work and staying committed to a cause.
“I didn’t learn those values by myself,” Kampman said. “I saw them lived out every day.”
Kampman and his wife decided to move back to Iowa after he retired from the NFL because he appreciates and admires his home state for its work ethic and Midwestern values.
“These lessons are essentially what makes Iowa so great, and really why my wife and I decided to move our family back to this state because we believe that it’s important just like my grandfather passed on his values to his children, and one of them being my father and my mother,” Kampman said. “Now we’re trying to do that to our kids, and it’s one of the reasons we’re back in this state.
“I believe that’s what makes the farming community strong, and in turn makes our country strong. And so I really feel like that’s why ANF is such a great way to represent the Midwest way of life. We work hard and we work together and we try to get better every day.”