Iowa linemen aim for extraordinary finish

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- There was nothing ordinary about Brandon Scherff and Carl Davis when each set gargantuan foot on Iowa's campus four summers ago. The two Hawkeye linemen expect to leave the program the same way.

Iowa prides itself as a developmental program, taking the undersized and overlooked and turning them into overachievers. Rarely do the Hawkeyes get recruits who, at least physically, look like finished products.

"Carl and Brandon were two of the bigger guys we've ever had come to campus as freshmen," coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Both men supplemented their size with rare athletic ability. Scherff played quarterback and tight end for most of his high school career. He lettered in baseball, basketball and tennis and earned all-state honors in track, winning a state title in shot put as a sophomore. Scherff played solely offensive line, the position Iowa pegged him to play, as a senior at Denison (Iowa) High School.

By the time he reported for his first college practice, he looked the part: 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds.

Scherff might have been listed as the biggest freshman on Iowa's 2010 roster, but the actual title belonged to Davis, a 6-5, 340-pound defensive tackle from Detroit. Like Scherff, Davis also had lettered in basketball and track as a high school standout.

"We actually toyed with the idea of playing both those guys their first year," Ferentz said. "It was in their best interests to redshirt, and that's what happened."

Nearly four years later, Scherff and Davis anchor the offensive and defensive lines for a promising Iowa team that always has considered line play its lifeblood. Ferentz's best Hawkeye teams -- 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 -- all had first-team All-Big Ten selections on both lines. His tenure is largely defined by linemen from both the offense (Eric Steinbach, Robert Gallery, Bruce Nelson, Bryan Bulaga, Marshal Yanda, Riley Reiff) and defense (Adrian Clayborn, Colin Cole, Mitch King, Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux).

Scherff and Davis want to add their names to the list.

"My goal," Scherff told ESPN.com, "is to be the best offensive lineman in the nation."

He enters his senior season as the Big Ten's most decorated offensive lineman and the favorite to win the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award. Scherff, who has started at left tackle the past two seasons, is the only first-team All-Big Ten offensive lineman from 2013 to return this fall.

If Scherff had opted to skip his senior season, his name could have been called Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall. Ferentz thinks the left tackle likely would have been a first-round pick -- "Late teens to mid-20s, in that range" -- if he had declared for the NFL draft.

The coach puts Scherff in the company with three other standout Hawkeye tackles: Gallery, Bulaga and Reiff. Both Bulaga and Reiff left early and were drafted No. 23 overall in the 2010 and 2012 drafts, respectively. Gallery stayed for his senior season and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft.

"He just enjoys everything about being a college football player," Ferentz said. "We have our whole lives to work. You only get a limited window to be a college student or, in their case, a college athlete. And that's a pretty good window. In Brandon's case, he likes his life. And he's going to have a great life in the pros and somebody is going to be really lucky to have him.

"You can't pay enough for what he has."

Scherff enjoys his teammates and the hunting and fishing trips he takes during the summer. He says of the NFL, "It's work up there." And it can wait another year.

"I'm not worried about [the NFL] anymore," he said. "I came back because I think I can improve a lot: my pass game, run game, playing smart, playing faster, pretty much all the aspects of football."

While Scherff refines his game, Davis' development could take a leap this season. Injuries and conditioning limitations impeded his progress early in his Iowa career -- he had just 16 tackles in his first two seasons. But he earned second-team all-conference honors last fall after recording 42 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and a sack.

Down to 315 pounds, Davis boosted his endurance as a junior.

"He probably jumped up 30, 40 snaps," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "You don't like to play 80 snaps a game, but if he can give us 60, 65 good plays, that's obviously going to help."

Davis calls 60 snaps "a good start," but he wants to push himself to his limit and not just stay on the field but impact games.

"I need to be a catalyst," he said. "When we're on those third downs and everybody is tired, I need to be able to make those tackles for loss, those sacks, deflect a pass, just step up big."

Davis embraces a leadership role on a defense that loses all three starting linebackers, including co-captains James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Along with linebacker Quinton Alston, he keeps things loose at practice and seeks out struggling teammates.

If a coach blasts a player, Davis is the one telling him, Look, he wants you to get better. Let's pick it up and go. We're fine.

But when it comes to his own game, Davis sets a higher bar.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to be the greatest, honestly, to be in this program," Davis said. "I want to be one of the best guys in the country."

Like Scherff, Davis wants to be extraordinary. If both add their names to Iowa's elite lineman lineage, the Hawkeyes could be, too.