IOWA CITY – Brett Van Sloten might not have been the most recognizable face at Big Ten Conference media day last month.
However, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and his son, offensive line coach Brian Ferentz, have no problem with the senior right tackle from Decorah being the face of their program.
“Brett is a really solid guy,” Brian Ferentz said. “Very constant, extremely dependable. He’s a very hard worker. ... smart, conscientious, and has a tremendous amount of pride.
“I threw a lot of adjectives out there. I think they all describe him very well. But the best compliment I think I could pay Brett has nothing to do with being a football player. He’s a guy that we feel very comfortable about young guys looking at and modeling their behavior after in this program.”
Van Sloten is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound right tackle who started all 12 games a year ago, without a single previous start under his belt. The fourth-year member of Iowa’s leadership group will look to fill a void left by graduate James Ferentz as a player teammates can turn toward on and off the field.
“In the past years, we had other guys who would do it, but it’s time for someone to step up, and I think that’s my place,” Van Sloten said. “James Ferentz was a vocal leader respected for hard work. He wasn’t afraid to get after a guy, but he also wasn’t afraid to compliment a guy if he did something, as well. You kind of look at him and try to build off that.”
Kirk Ferentz certainly sees Van Sloten as an athlete with some of the same leadership characteristics his son possessed.
“He [Van Sloten] exemplifies what you’re looking for and what you want in a football player,” the Hawkeyes’ coach said. “He’s just a tremendous young man. And very respected by our football team. So the fact that he’s played, he’s been there, he’s not afraid to voice his opinions at times, he’s somebody that we all appreciate a great deal, outstanding leader.”
Van Sloten’s leadership traits were instilled in him long before he reached Iowa City. At Decorah, he was a strong student and standout basketball player and tight end. He was a leader on veteran coach Bill Post’s 2008 state championship football team as a senior.
“Coach Post not only teaches you what good football is about,” Van Sloten said. “He also teaches you how to be a man off the field. ... It was a good takeoff point and runway leading into this program.”
The Decorah product certainly has proven himself a quick study.
Then first-year offensive line coach Brian Ferentz was eager to see how Van Sloten would react to the rigors of Big Ten football as he entered last season with limited game experience. The right tackle surpassed his expectations.
“He surprised me,” Brian Ferentz said. “He went out there and handled himself really well and never looked back. He played for 12 games like a guy that had been starting for 3 years. ... What that showed me is he had been paying attention for 3 years. He’d been playing very close attention.”
Van Sloten joins sophomore guard turned center Austin Blythe and junior left tackle Brandon Scherff as a trio of Iowa natives who were regulars on the offensive line a year ago. Scherff missed the final five games of last season with a broken fibula, but Kirk Ferentz said he’s back at full speed.
Junior Andrew Donnal also had seven games of experience on the line before injury cost him the final five starts in 2012. Senior Conor Boffeli opens fall camp atop the depth chart at left guard and sophomore Jordan Walsh at right guard.
While Van Sloten’s main concern is helping the Hawkeyes recover from last year’s 4-8 record, he’s well aware the possibility exists for a career in football.
“Stats show that offensive linemen at the University of Iowa do have success in the NFL,” Van Sloten said. “I haven’t thought too much about it. I’m focused on my senior year now and turning this around and getting back to where the Iowa football program has been in the past.”