Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
When the pieces come together as seamlessly as they did for Iowa's defense last season, it's critical to maintain an edge and guard against a letdown.
As long as Pat Angerer and Amari Spievey are on the field, the Hawkeyes shouldn't worry.
Arguably no two Iowa players appreciate the game more than Angerer and Spievey, both of whom have turned their careers around to earn All-Big Ten honors in 2008. It took a trip to rock bottom for one and a trip to community college for the other, but both players learned the same lesson.
"You don't take nothing for granted," Spievey said.
"Absolutely nothing," added Angerer.
Spievey, a junior cornerback, and Angerer, a senior linebacker, hope their fellow defenders take the same approach into the fall. Iowa comes off a 9-4 season in which it won six of its last seven games, including the Outback Bowl against South Carolina.
The Hawkeyes return eight starters from a defense that ranked fifth nationally in points allowed (13 ppg), ninth against the run (94 ypg) and 12th in total yards allowed (291.3 ypg). They bring back four players who earned all-conference honors, including second-team selections in both Angerer and Spievey.
But replicating last year's performance doesn't interest either Hawkeyes defender.
"We lost four games," Angerer said. "That's on us. If they wouldn't have scored, we would have won. Obviously, last year wasn't good enough."
From his last name to his plain-spoken approach toward life and football, Angerer seems perfectly suited for mashing heads as a middle linebacker. But not long ago, a practice field was the last place he wanted to be.
"I hated football," he said. "I couldn't even watch it on TV."
After playing sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2006, Angerer endured a miserable 2007 season.
He contracted mononucleosis and a host of other injuries and ailments. He watched one of his best friends, Hawkeyes defensive lineman Alex Kanellis, end his playing career after battling post-concussion syndrome.
"He had one of the worst years you could possibly have," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He was getting hit from all angles, and he was pretty much in a funk the whole year. Part of it's physical, part of it's mental, and he never really got to catch up."
Angerer didn't help his cause off the field.
"I was living like a cowboy, not doing the things I should have been doing," he said. "I had a lot of fun downtown. I wasn't really healthy emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually. In high school, you can get away with being an idiot, but you have to grow up a lot here. It's tough on 18-, 19-year-olds to grow up and mature, but you've got to do it."
Fortunately or unfortunately, Angerer got the chance to grow up after Iowa finished 6-6 in 2007 and missed a bowl game for the first time 2000. He appeared in just four games that season, recording one assisted tackle against Penn State.
With all of winter break to think and stew, Angerer decided to make some changes.
"I got back home and I was like, 'I'm going to [expletive] do this,'" said Angerer, a native of Bettendorf, Iowa. "If I'm here, I might as well play. I'm just going to start over and start fresh."
Spievey had to start fresh at Iowa Central Community College after encountering academic problems and other issues as a true freshman at Iowa in 2005. He came to Iowa City from Middletown, Conn., the first member of his family to attend college.
The distance from home and the demands of college took a toll on Spievey, who couldn't even look forward to games while being redshirted. Overwhelmed is the word Ferentz uses repeatedly to describe Speivey that season.
"That was my first year ever not playing in my life," Spievey said. "So I wasn't motivated, I wasn't focused, my priorities weren't straight."
He improved his grades at Iowa Central and recorded seven interceptions, returning two four touchdowns, to go along with four blocked punts. Spievey also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Though Spivey (pronounced Spuh-vay) admits the football at Iowa Central was "pretty easy," it made him value his opportunity with Iowa.
"He was like a new man," Ferentz said, "a lot more focused and, as I said, he was a guy we recruited as an athlete. He wasn't per se a great corner, an established corner. He's really worked hard and developed."
Spievey capitalized on opportunities at the cornerback spot last fall and started all 13 games. He ranked third on the team with 68 tackles and recorded four interceptions, including a 57-yard runback for a touchdown just before halftime against Minnesota.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Spievey also forced a fumble and broke up six passes for a secondary that combined for 16 interceptions and three forced fumbles.
"When I came back, I just wanted to do everything right and start fresh," Spievey said. "A new beginning, that's what I kept telling myself. It just worked out."
Angerer, who came to Iowa a bit undersized, filled out and filled in at the middle linebacker spot. After recording just six tackles in his first two seasons, Angerer led Iowa with 107 stops, including 6.5 for loss.
Though he never dropped back in pass coverage as a high school player, Angerer played a huge role in Iowa's takeaway trend last fall, matching teammate Tyler Sash for the Big Ten interceptions lead with five.
Ferentz has seen Angerer embrace a greater leadership role this spring. Getting amped for practice is no longer a problem for the 6-1, 235-pound senior.
"You look around and you're just like, 'This is awesome,'" Angerer said. "Everyone's [whining] at 5:30 in the morning, but there's no place I'd rather be."