The headline read, “Weisman listed as starting running back… for now.”
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz echoed the sentiments afterwards, “He’s a contrast to the other guys that we have carrying the football. So you know, would he be our go-to-guy, our predominant back? I don’t know. Only time will tell.”
Questions abounded about whether Mark Weisman could actually be a “playmaker” running the football, while the “experts” insisted that he was really just a “fullback,” that he was a short-term, emergency fill-in, and that he was built to be a blocker. Or maybe he should be a linebacker, despite his impressive performance at tailback.
Ferentz admitted that, “He certainly showed some things out there competitively, and he brings a different tempo, if you will, running the football than everybody else. That was not scripted, I can assure you. But he runs tough. And we didn’t have any choice Saturday, but yeah, you just never know until guys get on the game field and perform.”
These are the sentiments regarding the player who, according to Stats Inc., is the first Hawkeye to rush for more than 300 yards and score 6 rushing touchdowns in a two-game span since 1997 (Tavian Banks).
That’s right. The first in 15 years.
And that’s also right. The player who did it was only given the chance because the coaching staff had no other choice.
This is the story of Mark Weisman. But even more so, this is the story of the Caste System.
The player who has performed so brilliantly as a tailback for the Hawkeyes the past two weeks was not offered a scholarship to play at Iowa. Nor was he considered a potential tailback, at least, not until every “real tailback” on the Iowa roster was unavailable. Literally seven (7!) other tailbacks were tried before Weisman got his opportunity: Marcus Coker (the 2011 starter), Mika’il McCall, and DeAndre Johnson were off the team by the time fall camp started. Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill went down with major knee injuries. Michael Malloy was ill for the Northern Iowa game and couldn’t go. Damon Bullock started the game against Northern Iowa, but he was knocked out (pun!) with a concussion. Greg Garmon was injured shortly thereafter. With nowhere else to turn, Iowa was forced to turn to Weisman.
And that is where the legend of Mark Weisman began. But his story began long before that…
A three-year starter at Stevenson High (Chicago), Weisman was a first-team all-state running “fullback,” rushing 153 times for 1,657 yards (that’s nearly 11 yards-per-carry) and 22 touchdowns as a senior. Despite the gaudy numbers, tremendous size (6-feet, 225-pounds), and a head coach who told everyone how good the running back was, Weisman only had one Division One scholarship offer coming out of high school. That’s right. Just one. His high school head coach was stunned that schools weren’t lining up to sign his phenom. Obviously he is not familiar with how the Caste System works.
Iowa said he could come as a walk-on, if he wanted to. But they had plenty of “real” talent in their backfield, so the Hawkeyes weren’t sweating it when Weisman accepted the scholarship to play for Air Force.
Despite his terrific work ethic and willingness to play fullback, his “natural” position, Weisman didn’t fit in at the Academy, where he admits that he was sleeping on the floor because he couldn’t make his bed to regulations. So, with no hard feelings, he decided to go where his heart had always wanted to be: Iowa.
As an unheralded, virtually unwanted walk-on, there were no promises that he’d get to play. But all Weisman needed was an opportunity.
He began making an impression when playing on the scout team. Hitting like a hammer and routinely showcasing the ability that garnered all those high school accolades, his teammates and coaches began to take note of his physical prowess. His work in the weight room became the stuff of legend, and by the beginning of his sophomore season (with his weight up to 235 pounds) he had earned the starting fullback job. Well, sort of. He was listed as a co-starter that didn’t actually start.
Still no scholarship, though. And still no indication that the coaches knew they had a high-powered juggernaut ready and waiting to run with the ball. They believed (wrongly) that they had seven better players in front of him.
And that is why the Caste System is so difficult to overcome. “Evaluating” “talent” is largely a subjective business, and the “eye of the beholder” sees what it wants to see. That is the reason certain athletes who put up huge numbers in high school but run a pedestrian forty time with pedestrian agility times are still considered “plenty fast” and potential “playmakers” because they are bursting with “upside,” while other athletes who put up equally huge numbers while running faster forty times and superior agility times are still somehow “too slow” or “too stiff” or “don’t have upside.” When coaches expect to see something, they see it … even if it isn’t true. That is why when collegiate scouts and coaches looked at Weisman they saw a potential “blocking fullback” instead of a potential “power tailback.”
You see, Weisman is a White kid playing a “Black position.”
It is obvious that those collegiate scouts and coaches ignored the easily-verified fact that the virtually unrecruited Weisman’s physical size and speed were very similar coming out of high school to highly-recruited Michigan State tailback (and Doak Walker candidate) Le’Veon Bell, who runs with a very similar powerful style. Additionally, Weisman’s production was similar and his big-play numbers were actually superior to the highly recruited Bell. But despite these verifiable facts, not a single “talent evaluator” considered Weisman to be a potential contributor at tailback.
Not even the Iowa coaching staff, who are now being forced to play him, considered him to be a playmaker with the ball in his hands.
You see, Bell is Black, while Weisman is obviously White.
Yet, somehow, Weisman is now running for huge numbers. In fact, Weisman, the unwanted sophomore, is second in the Big Ten in rushing (and rushing touchdowns) despite only carrying the ball in a little over a game-and-a-half. Just imagine what kind of numbers he could be putting up if he had “real” talent …
Or is their more to the story? After all, it is quite obvious that the hard-running Weisman is a gifted running back.
In his first start at tailback, he ran for 217 yards and 3 more touchdowns on 27 carries. His huge day (and that whopping 8-yards-per-carry average) was lost amidst the sting of Iowa’s upset loss, but it’s clear that his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands is so obvious that only the blind can’t see it. So why couldn’t all those so-called talent scouts and Iowa coaches see it before now?
The answer is simple. No one is as blind as those who don’t want to see.
Perhaps Ferentz summed it up best after Weisman’s day against Central Michigan: “We didn’t know how nimble he would be, how athletic he would be, how he would be at making the reads and the cuts you have to make,” Ferentz said. “That was our thought process a couple of weeks ago.”
That’s because if you don’t think a White kid can run the ball, then you will never give him a chance … unless, of course, you have seven “real” tailbacks go down and you don’t have any other choice.
In his second full game as the starting tailback (and second-and-a-half as the featured runner), Weisman ran for 177 yards (averaging 8.4 yards-per-carry) and one touchdown, en route to helping Iowa to a much-needed win. Three games ago, he was a sort-of-starting fullback, whom the Hawkeye coaching staff considered worthy of nothing more than road-grading for the “real” running backs.
In the three games since the coaches were forced into playing him at tailback, Weisman has run for 507 yards and 7 touchdowns.
But instead of admitting that his staff (and collegiate scouts everywhere) made a colossal mistake in the evaluation of Weisman’s ability, Ferentz continued to speak about the Hawkeye Hammer with poorly hidden dismay.
“After one game, you’re kind of like, ‘Hmmm, hope I’m seeing it right,’” Ferentz said of Weisman, who has topped 100 yards and scored at least one touchdown in three consecutive games as the “emergency” tailback. “Then after two, you start thinking, ‘This guy might not be bad.’ After three games, I think a lot of us are starting to think, ‘Maybe this guy is a running back.’ His fullback days may be numbered. He may be retiring from that spot.”
With “evaluation” and “coaching” like that, one wonders if a White player will ever be considered good enough to be a legitimate tailback.
Additionally, one laughingly supposes that “naturally,” Ferentz would say the same things about black power tailbacks like Ron Dayne, Jerome Bettis, Marcus Allen, or Jim Brown, who apparently all should be incredibly thankful they aren’t White and didn’t play for Iowa.