January 18, 2008

Teammates one more time

For three years, Bryan Mattison and Kenny Iwebema lined up as starters on the Iowa defensive line. They thought the chances that they would be teammates once again were probably slim once their senior season came to a disappointing end, but as fate would have it, the duo is together again this week in Houston participating in the annual East/West Shrine game.

"It has been a blast having him here with me," Iwebema said on Thursday night. "It makes this game even more special to have the chance to play one more game with him."

After a disappointing end to their senior season, Mattison is also looking forward to getting back on the playing field with his teammate.

"We really didn't think we would have the chance to play with each other again. We came in together on Day One at Iowa and now we get to finish up together in an all star game, so that is kind of neat. This week has been a lot of fun having Kenny around," Mattison said.

The duo spent five years together in Iowa City, arriving in the same recruiting class and earning a spot in the starting lineup as defensive ends the past three years.

The link between the two goes even further off the field, as they have both signed with the same agency (CAA), but have different agents, as they start their professional life in football.

This past week, Mattison and Iwebema have been coached under the watchful eye of former NFL coach Dick Vermeil, who will serve has head coach of the East squad, and have worked with the defensive line coach from the Minnesota Vikings, Karl Dunbar.

"Coach Dunbar has been great," Mattison said. "We have only been together for this week, but he has helped with technique hints. Plus he obviously knows Chad Greenway, so that gives us a little credibility with him."

Along with getting coaching from NFL assistants, the former Hawkeyes have had a opportunity to prove themselves against some of the best players in college football one more time in front of the watchful eye of scouts.

"The practices have been real intense, but at the end of the day, we are also having some fun playing football. This whole thing has been a positive experience and it has been great to compete against some of the top players around the country and prove yourself that way on the field," Iwebema said.

Mattison knows that these sort of games and practices are a bit different and it is an adjustment. While you are playing as a team, you are also trying to prove yourself as an individual to leave an impression on the NFL scouts, who have been at practice all week.

"It has been different for sure. I have always grown up with the idea that the team comes first and the individual comes second, but in games like this it is different because you are trying to prove yourself. For me, I look at this as a job interview with scouts being all over the place this week watching us perform in practice."

While some of the NFL prospects in Houston this week might be a bit in awe of seeing NFL scouts watching their every move on and off the field, the former Hawkeyes are more at ease with the whole process.

"I guess that maybe the first day I felt a little of it," said Mattison. "But, at Iowa, we have such a good reputation because of Coach Ferentz and his staff that we have had scouts in and out of practice all season, so you don't really think about them."

One Saturday night at 6 p.m., Mattison and Iwebema will put on their Hawkeye helmets one last time. They will do it together, as they have for five years hoping that with a strong performance it will lead to bigger and better things as they start their unique job interview process and continue chasing the dream of one day playing in the NFL.

The East/West Shrine Game will be broadcast on ESPN2 starting at 6 p.m.


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