By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Even if he never dresses for a game or sees any action on the field, Michael Lois will forever be an Iowa Hawkeye.
He will forever be a member of the Iowa football team’s 2020 recruiting class, one of 22 players in the class and the only one from Wisconsin.
Lois is a 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive end whose life took a horrible twist when he jumped off a trampoline into about four feet water on Sept. 16, 2018.
He broke three vertebrae in his spine that has since required three surgeries as part of a grueling recovery process.
The accident happened just about two weeks after Lois had made a verbal commitment to the Iowa football team.
Lois was on top of the world when he dove into that pool, but now his world looks much different from a football standpoint.
The odds are slim that Lois will ever play football again because he would have to receive medical clearance. But that seems highly unlikely due to the seriousness of his injury, and with football being such a violent and dangerous sport.
So in a way, this is a very sad story because you hate to see a young man who has worked so hard to achieve a dream have it taken away in a matter of seconds by one ill-advised decision.
But it’s also an inspiring story that speaks to the power of the human spirit.
It’s a story about being true and sincere, and about doing the right thing.
And it’s a story that reminds us that Iowa has a good and decent person running its football program in Kirk Ferentz.
He might struggle to beat Wisconsin, and it’s been 15 years since Iowa last won a Big Ten title, but if that’s the worst that you can say about Kirk Ferentz, then Iowa fans should feel fortunate.
Iowa fans should feel proud that Ferentz values people and his integrity more than anything.
His decision to keep Lois on scholarship says a lot about the 64-year old Ferentz, and a lot about the culture at Iowa that dates back to when Ferentz’s legendary predecessor and former boss, Hayden Fry, took over in 1979.
“It’s kind of reflective of recruiting right now, everything is moving faster, obviously, than it ever has before,” Ferentz said at a press conference on Wednesday. “But one thing we always tell players is we don’t want them to commit unless they are very serious about the commitment. But that commitment is a two-way street.
“So both Michael and his parents came down on multiple visits. They were enthused about the program. They made the commitment and we accepted it. From that time on, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re committed to a player graduating. That’s the first and foremost goal we have. Obviously, we want to try and provide a real good experience for them athletically, but to me, ultimately it’s about commitment to graduation.”
Listening to Ferentz say that on Wednesday brought back memories that hit home, almost literally.
It made me think of that glorious day back in 1979 when my parents learned that my older brother, Fran Harty, would be kept on scholarship at Iowa even though his playing days were over due to a staph infection in his knee.
My parents weren’t the hugging and kissing types, but I still remember the warm embrace they shared in the dining room of our house in Des Moines after learning that my brother would be kept on scholarship.
There was a sense of joy, relief and appreciation for what Fry had done.
My brother never had a chance to play in a game for Iowa because the infection came after he had surgery to remove a bone chip in his knee in the summer before his redshirt freshman season in 1979.
Hayden Fry was the new head coach at the time after having replaced the fired Bob Commings shortly after the 1978 season.
My brother was in Commings’ final recruiting class, so it wasn’t Fry who had recruited my brother to be a Hawkeye.
But that didn’t matter when it came to keeping my brother on scholarship until he graduated.
Fry chose to keep my brother on scholarship because it was the right thing to do. It was Fry’s way of honoring a commitment, even though it wasn’t his commitment.
My brother would go on to graduate in three years and is now a successful attorney who lives in West Des Moines.
Lois should use my brother’s story as inspiration because it shows that something good can come from something bad, and that darkness can to turn to light due to the kindness of others.
I’m not suggesting that Kirk Ferentz is bigger than life and that he is loved by every player he has recruited or coached.
But what I am saying is that Kirk Ferentz understands what is important in life and doesn’t let the pressure of trying to win cloud his judgment or compromise his ethics.
It was the same with Hayden Fry, who passed away in December at the age of 90.
Nobody wanted to win more than Fry, but not at the expense of his integrity or values.
Ferentz spent nine seasons as Fry’s offensive line coach from 1981-89, so Ferentz saw first-hand how Fry treated his players and how Fry dealt with each player, on and off the field.
But I also believe that Kirk Ferentz was a person of high character before he came to Iowa, and that working for Fry only strengthened his resolve in that regard.
Ferentz didn’t rule out the possibility that Lois could help the football team in some other capacity.
“If he’d like to be involved, that door is certainly open,” Ferentz said.
That door represents the Iowa culture.