Anyone who lives in the state of Iowa knows that 2015 was a bit of a magical year for the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Black and Gold went 12-0 in the regular season, earned a berth in the Big Ten Football Championship Game, and made it to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years.
For Sully native Kyle Terlouw, it’s a season he’ll never forget as his dream of getting playing time as a Hawkeye became a reality. Being on the team in one of their best seasons ever was “a blessing, that’s for sure,” said the 6’4”, 288-pound defensive lineman.
Playing for the Hawkeyes has been a journey several years in the making for Terlouw. After graduating from Lynnville-Sully in 2012, where he was an all-state lineman, Terlouw went on to play two years of junior college football at Iowa Central Community College. For the 2014-15 school year, he turned down scholarship offers to Missouri State, Indiana State, and a number of Division II schools and instead chose to be a preferred walk-on at the University of Iowa. He redshirted the 2014-15 season.
After working hard in the off-season, Terlouw finally had his chance to play this fall. His excitement was shared by his teammates, who all had high hopes for the season ahead. They did, however, have to face a slew of naysayers, many of whom projected Iowa would drop five or more games.
Knowing they’d been underestimated by the media made them play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, according to Terlouw.
“We treated every game like it was our last, and that really shined through,” Terlouw said.
Despite the pessimists out there – or perhaps spurred on by them – the Iowa Hawkeyes stayed focused and strengthened the relationships between the players.
“I think something that helped us a lot this year was the strong team bond between everybody and the personal connections between guys,” Terlouw said. “We like to use the word family a lot. Coach Ferentz likes to throw that around and some other coaches. That’s really what it is – one big family.”
Another key to the Hawkeyes’ success? Taking care of the details. Using a book called “The Slight Edge: Secret to a Successful Life,” the Iowa coaching staff worked to build the best athletes by doing the little things right each day – going to class, getting rest, eating right, hitting the weight room, focusing at practice, etc. That concept was preached daily, according to Terlouw.
The Hawkeyes’ hard work and attention to details paid off right from the start with a 31-14 victory over Illinois State in the season opener on Sept. 5. It’s a game Terlouw will never forget as he earned his first Division I stat.
“I remember the first tackle, I was so excited I was just about in tears,” Terlouw said.
Getting that first stat helped alleviate the jitters he felt heading into the game, Terlouw said, adding that things seemed to click for him after that first game.
Likewise, things seemed to fall into place for the Hawkeyes as a whole as they picked up win after win. Following their perfect 12-0 regular season, the Hawkeyes (then ranked No. 4 in the nation) faced Michigan State (No. 5) in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“It was kind of nerve wracking for me because that’s clearly the biggest stage I’d ever played on. To be in Indianapolis, to be on a pro field, it was breath taking to say the least,” Terlouw said, adding, “It wasn’t quite the same as playing at Kinnick, but Iowa fans sure welcomed us.”
Unfortunately, the championship game didn’t turn out the way the Hawkeyes wanted as they came up short, 16-13. It was close until the very end, when the Spartans slowly marched down the field, taking the lead with 27 seconds remaining. Their go-ahead touchdown came on a one-yard run, a play Terlouw experienced firsthand. He remembers the play vividly, including when he saw the Spartans’ L.J. Scott stretching the ball into the end zone.
“My heart kind of stopped a little bit,” Terlouw said.
To be so close to winning the championship and come up short – it felt like a failure to Terlouw and some of his teammates, who had all set their hearts on taking the title.
Terlouw described the days following the Big Ten Championship as an “emotional roller coaster.” The disappointment from not earning the conference title was offset by finding out that Sunday that the Hawkeyes had been selected for the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
The week following the Big Ten Championship game was finals week at Iowa, which forced the Hawkeyes to focus on other things. Following finals week, the Hawkeyes had to stop looking back at the Michigan State game and instead look ahead to the Rose Bowl Game against Stanford on New Year’s Day.
The Iowa players put all their effort into preparing for their final game – a game they hoped would result in their first Rose Bowl victory since 1959.
The Hawkeyes headed to Pasadena, CA, on Christmas Eve and had some unique, fun experiences in the days leading up to the bowl game. The most exciting part for Terlouw was visiting Disneyland for the first time. Other perks were the players were given a bunch of extra Rose Bowl gear and a variety of bowl game gifts. A couple examples of the quirky gifts Terlouw received were a dartboard and a sandwich maker.
After a week in California, it was finally time for the Rose Bowl. Thousands of Iowans flocked to the historic bowl game to cheer on the Hawkeyes in their first appearance there since 1991.
Terlouw had his own personal supporters at the Rose Bowl. His dad and mom, Doug and Lori, who attended every game this season, made the drive to Pasadena. Terlouw’s girlfriend and her dad were both at the game, as well as Mike Gruver and his family from Pella. Gruver is a trainer who has worked with Terlouw since he set out to play for the Hawkeyes. “I can’t thank him and his family enough for their time and support,” Terlouw said.
As Hawkeye fans know, the Rose Bowl did not go as hoped. Stanford grabbed the momentum in their first offensive play and didn’t let up, handing the Hawkeyes a 45-16 loss, their second of the season.
In a word, the game was a “heartbreaker,” according to Terlouw.
“It was just kind of an unfortunate day,” he said. “It wasn’t the Iowa football that we established ourselves on.”
The hardest part about the loss, he thought, was knowing the time and effort he and his teammates had put into getting ready for the game.
“It was quality preparation going into it,” he said.
The disappointing loss, however, can’t take away the many accomplishments the Hawkeyes made in the 2015-16 season. Predicted to be a middle-of-the-pack team in both the Big Ten and the Big Ten West, Iowa finished with a school-record 12 wins and came just one defensive stop short of capturing the conference title.
One highlight for Terlouw this season was traveling with the Hawkeyes, which helped him to form tighter bonds with his teammates. Another highlight was “suiting up with a purpose” this year, he said.
“I’ll never forget the first time I swarmed the field last year, my first year there. But it wasn’t with the purpose because I redshirted,” he explained.
When asked if he was looking forward to a break, Terlouw said, “Yeah, definitely, my body could use it. My mind could use it. I’m still working out, getting in shape and stuff. The drive never really stops. You just kind of tone it back a little bit.”
Believing “there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Terlouw will focus on strength and conditioning in the off-season and has spring ball to look forward to in a few months.
Though he’ll graduate with a bachelors degree in criminology this spring, the football journey will continue for Terlouw, who has another year of eligibility left. He’s grateful to all who have been there for him as he’s worked his way from a small-town high school to fulfilling a dream of playing for the Hawkeyes.
“I’d like to thank everybody for all the support they’ve given the team and me personally,” he said. “That definitely makes it more enjoyable. It’s definitely been a blessing, and I thank the good Lord every day for it.”