The Iowa Hawkeye football program is well-known for putting several excellent linemen in the NFL.  Now wrapping up his sixth year in the league, Marshal Yanda is slowly putting together a career that could very well rank him with the best linemen ever associated with Iowa football.  In honor of his playing in the Super Bowl tomorrow, let’s revisit the career of Hawkeye standout Marshal Yanda.

Achieving a Dream

Marshal Yanda was born on September 15, 1984, in Cedar Rapids.  Yanda grew up on a farm in Anamosa, Iowa, just outside of Cedar Rapids.  Anamosa was the same home town of another excellent Hawkeye football player, Evy-era end Don Norton.  But Yanda’s path to Iowa City was anything but smooth.

Yanda was a powerful force on the athletic fields for Anamosa High School.  He lettered in football, basketball, and track in high school and earned two all-conference selections in football.  But he had trouble focusing in the classroom, and those academic lapses nearly cost him a shot at his dream.

“My dream when I was young was to play for the Hawkeyes,” Yanda recalled.  “I wanted to do that, but I strayed in high school.  I worked hard, but I didn’t take the classroom seriously.  So when I wanted to go to Iowa, my grades weren’t in order and I was behind, and I had to go the junior college route.”

The junior college route took Yanda to Mason City and North Iowa Area Community College.  He spent two seasons there to qualify academically for Division I football, but he was by no means assured of playing his last two college seasons at Iowa.  Kirk Ferentz seldom pursues junior college transfers, so Yanda was at risk of being left out in the cold.  Fortunately for Yanda and the Hawkeye program, Iowa happened to be thin at offensive line after the 2004 season.

“There is some luck involved, for sure,” Yanda said. “Iowa doesn’t normally take chances on junior college guys, but luckily they needed linemen at the time, so I could get my two years in.”

And Marshal Yanda made the most of those two seasons as a Hawkeye.

A Rugged Hawkeye Career

Yanda started for the Hawkeyes right away as a junior.  For him, the wait was worth it.  “The hair stood up on the back of my neck when I ran out of the tunnel for the first time,” he said of his first Hawkeye game, a 56-0 win over Ball State.

Marshal Yanda - Iowa Hawkeyes Revisited Baltimore RavensHe worked his way in at the left guard spot, starting Iowa’s first four games of the 2005 season there.  He then shifted over to the right tackle spot for Iowa’s game against Illinois and played the last seven regular season games at right tackle.  Iowa went 5-2 over that stretch, losing those two games by a combined four points.  He then started at right tackle for the Hawkeyes in the 2006 Outback Bowl against Florida, Iowa’s fourth-straight January Bowl game.

Now settled in at the tackle spot, Yanda prepared for his senior season in 2006.  He entered his second Hawkeye season as the starter at right tackle, and in his third game of the 2006 season, the Hawkeyes squared off against instate rival Iowa State.

When you think back on Marshal Yanda’s career at the University of Iowa, one play clearly stands out.  The Hawks were at Kinnick Stadium against Iowa State, a team that had beaten them the year before.  Iowa was ahead, 24-17, with just over six minutes remaining in the game.  Quarterback Drew Tate took the snap and tossed the ball to Damian Sims, who was running to his left.  Sims handed the ball off to Herb Grigsby, who was running to the right of the field on an end-around play.

Iowa State freshman defensive end Rashawn Parker trailed Grigsby on the play and was trying to chase down the Hawkeye wide receiver.  But Parker didn’t keep his eyes out for Yanda, who delivered a punishing crackback block that dropped Parker to the turf.

I was at the stadium for that game.  I was a student at Iowa during Bob Sanders’ career, which means I’ve seen a lot of punishing hits on the football field.  But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more vicious hit in person than Yanda’s crackback block that day.  Iowa went on to kick an insurance field goal and win, 27-17.

Marshal Yanda started four more games at right tackle before shifting over to the left side of the line.  He started five of his final six games at Iowa at left tackle, including his final game as a Hawkeye, the 2006 Alamo Bowl against Texas.  As a senior, Yanda earned several awards.  He was named a team MVP and a team captain after the season, while the Big Ten Conference selected Yanda as a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2006.

But to be honest, Marshal Yanda was still developing as a football player when his abbreviated Hawkeye career ended.  He was still filled with potential for growth, and the Baltimore Ravens took notice of that when they snagged Yanda in the 2007 NFL Draft with a third round draft pick.  “There is such a high respect level for Coach Ferentz in the NFL, that for him to say, ‘Hey, this kid is probably going to be a good player,’ spoke volumes to the coaches and staffs of the NFL teams,” Yanda said.  “That was a huge influence with them.  Even before looking at me, his word went a long way.”

A Baltimore Anchor

Marshal Yanda played in every game in his 2007 rookie season, starting 12 games.  He helped protect quarterback Kyle Boller while starting at right tackle.  In his second season, Yanda moved to the right guard spot and started five games in front of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco before a knee injury cut his sophomore season short.

Marshal Yanda - Iowa Hawkeyes Revisited Baltimore RavensIn his third season, Yanda started to come into his own as an NFL lineman.  He helped the 2009 Ravens gain 5,619 total yards – the second-highest total in franchise history – and started the first playoff game of his career, a Wild Card victory over the New England Patriots.  The following year, Baltimore tackle Jared Gaither suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp.  Yanda moved from right guard back to right tackle, and he continued to shine at his new position.  For the first time in his career, he started all 16 games during the 2010 season, and he helped guide the Ravens back to the playoffs, starting two more games in the 2010 postseason.

Impressed by his progress over his first four seasons, the Baltimore Ravens signed Yanda to a five-year, $32 million contract.  Marshal Yanda paid back the Ravens for their faith in him by raising his play to the level of the NFL’s elite.

In 2011, Yanda moved back to the right guard spot and was soon recognized as one of the best guards in the NFL.  He started all 16 of the Ravens’ regular season games at right guard in 2011, and he was selected as a second-team All-Pro after the season.  Yanda’s Ravens fell just short of the Super Bowl, losing the AFC Championship Game, 23-20, to the New England Patriots.

This year, Marshal Yanda’s year was even better.  He made first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career, and his Ravens exacted revenge on the Patriots, claiming a 28-13 victory in this year’s AFC Championship Game and earning a spot in Super Bowl XLVII.  I mentioned this in an earlier post, but Marshal Yanda could put an exclamation point on one of the greatest Super Bowl seasons ever for an Iowa Hawkeye with a Super Bowl victory; Yanda has a chance to become the fourth Hawkeye to earn first-team All-Pro honors and win a Super Bowl in the same season – joining Merton Hanks in 1994, John Niland in 1971, and Bob Jeter in 1967.

Hawkeyes Revisited: Marshal Yanda

At this point, the sky is the limit for Marshal Yanda, but his time at Iowa taught him to stay grounded.  “Coach Ferentz told me to stay the same, don’t change,” Yanda said.  “It doesn’t matter about the money, continue to do what you’re doing now and life will be great.  Don’t change your personality, and don’t think you don’t have to work hard now that you’ve made it.”

“You don’t know how far [football] will take you,” Yanda continued.  “I still take the same approach of one day at a time and see where you are at the end of the day.  In high school, I wanted to play for the Hawks and that was it.  I had no aspirations of playing in the NFL, so when I went to NIACC, it was like, bust my butt for two years and see if I can get a scholarship to play for Iowa.”

He did, and he made the most of that opportunity.  Marshal Yanda continues to make the Hawkeye program proud with his play in the NFL, and he credits his time at Iowa for his growth as a player.  “Coach Ferentz taught me to focus on the little things and get better at one thing each day,” Yanda said.  “I have taken that mindset and done it day-by-day and stacked days, and I never looked back.  Iowa put me on track to being a successful starter at a Pro Bowl level in the NFL.  It worked out great for me.”

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