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Seven Questions with ISU Football Alum Hiawatha Rutland

Catching up with the former Cyclone running back on Sandy, Steele, Sage, Seneca, and Jake Knott.

Hiawatha Rutland played running back for Iowa State from 2000-2003, amassing over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 9 touchdowns before his career was cut short by a knee injury. Today, Hiawatha educates a new generation of scholars and intellectuals at a high school in New York. As he did last season, he took a moment of his day to sit down for a few words with us.

Life on the East coast became a little more interesting in the last few days. How did you weather Hurricane Sandy? Are your home & school all in one piece?

My home fears no Super Storm. I was secured with an ample storm survivor's kit consisting of tap water, eggs, and tuna fish. I biked past the school during one of Sandy's outbursts to see a generator pumping power into the building as it served as a shelter. I think Sandy wanted a week off from work and refused to take no for an answer. She can be quite spoiled when she wants.

Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott recently underwent season and ISU career ending shoulder surgery. We know you went through something similar, so with a little hindsight in your favor, what will Jake and the team be going through the remainder of the season?

Career ending injuries have sub-categories. Mr. Knott is one of my all-time favorite linebackers. He has made several huge plays and will truly be missed by the team. I do not know him personally, however, I am certain he is a quality human being.

When I hopped off the field on one leg and my teammates saw my knee's attempt to escape from my skin, football no longer mattered for the rest of the season. In fact, I have not played a down since. I pray that Mr. Knott will be able to heal because he deserves a chance to compete at the highest level and has done enough to secure his spot in bar conversations and living rooms for generations to come. The team will struggle to replace his savvy and emotional play but the defense has played well and there are athletes eager to contribute. I wish Mr. Knott all the best. He would have tackled me two out of five times in an open field one on one live situation if we played at the same time.

ISU hasn't beaten Oklahoma in Ames since 1960... what were you doing in 1960? What do you think of the team’s chances this weekend?

In 1960 I was working diligently with a team of engineers in Massachusetts to come up with a patent for space technology. I hear it is very cold up there. I have been trying to get there ever since to no avail. Needless to say, my team did not get the patent as Jack was in a hurry to beat the Russians to the moon and went with the other guys.
I always believe Iowa State has a chance to win. From my seat on a New York City rooftop or local watering hole or coffee shop where I stream Cyclone contests, my biggest concern is the location of the handoffs for the running backs. I would love to see one of the four quarterbacks go under center and give the running back an extra yard and a half to press the line of scrimmage to get some more big gains in the running game. Our defense is burdened by turnovers and those things will get you beat against any quality opponent. The Cyclone defense always keeps them in the game. Maybe if they score the offense will get jealous and try to do the same thing on a more consistent and systematic basis.

Seneca & Sage both made Ames appearances last weekend - when can we expect Hiawatha to make his next appearance, and how awesome is it to be known by just your first name?

Being known by just my first name is one of my life's greatest accomplishments. It affords me absolutely nothing. My students make fun of my name and you should hear some of theirs. I plan to check out a game next fall and go to the bowl game if Iowa State can win at least one of its next four games.

You know the thing about Sage and Seneca, and people ask me this all the time, Sage gave the absolute best handoffs. He was especially adept at reminding me of who I had in pass protection. I tried to convince him that he would win the Heisman in 2000 and he played exceptionally well the year the Cyclones went 9-3 with a bowl victory. Seneca on the other hand, what a great Native American name. The Seneca were a group of indigenous people native to North America and were the farthest west within the Six Nations of the Iroquois League founded by "he who brings peace", Hiawatha. He always reminded me to check the linebacker prior to going out to the checkdown. I appreciated the fact that he let me know he needed me in the backfield with him and his desire to win. Both had a commanding presence in the huddle and I have to commend both gentlemen for their efforts to coordinate their appearances in Ames to remind folks of the Cyclone lore.

Do the young minds you're molding respect your athletic brilliance? or are they only awed by your mastery of literature and prose?

The young minds that I am charged to mold appreciate my decorated past as an Iowa renowned comedian and athlete. Today, children find out my name and they spend countless hours searching the internet for a piece of my identity as it makes sense to them. I will get little letters in my mailbox or students will tell jokes that they have heard me tell online and it makes me cry a little on the inside because I never wanted to know anything about any of my teachers personal lives.

Everyday I have an opportunity to speak encouraging words to the youth of this country and most of them listen. I use the fabled acclaim as an entry point to help build the literacy of our young people because they are the ones who will tell our stories after we have left this rock and I will not allow any misspelled words or grammatical errors. They respect and are in awe by both my athletic brilliance and mastery of the literature and prose.

Most of them are baffled that an athlete is their teacher. One of my students who plays basketball says to me just the other day, "Yo Rutland! You should have scored on that one play against Florida State, and you missed a spot correcting my essay. I used a comma; I should have used a semicolon."

ISU promoted Coach Messingham to offensive coordinator this season with mixed results. What are the biggest hurdles an offense faces when switching coaches?

The biggest hurdle any offense faces is being unbalanced. Shotgun handoffs on a consistent basis limits what an offense can do in the run game. If a coach is promoted and the coach being replaced remains with the team, players make fun of the coach who was demoted. They laugh at him in his face and even harder behind his back. Players know what they need to do to be successful and if the coach will not allow them to be successful, they get angry. They start jumping offsides when they disagree with the play, they step with the inside foot, and often times line up incorrectly. It is critical to have a bond and a sense of community and trust in order for the offense to click. The coaches, players, and fans all have to agree on every single call and result in order to build employee morale as well as the win total. If a change happens in the middle of the season there is a little more focus because the team knows what is at stake. At the beginning of the season, as in Iowa State's case, if there is a change there is a bit more time to get acclimated so the situation is not as dire.

ISU stands at 5-3 with games against Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas & West Virginia remaining. What is your prediction for the rest of the season?

I predict merriment and celebrations for all as the Cyclone will win at least two more games with a possible third victory. I am eager to see the Cyclones welcome West Virginia to the BIG XII in the same fashion that they welcomed TCU. Nine wins is looking realistic (Editors note: Nine?!?!) although the loss of Mr. Knott is going to put extra pressure on the standout Cyclone defense.

I predict also, that one of the many ISU quarterbacks will read this interview and realize that the team cannot be successful until he executes on an instinctual level and stops looking over his shoulder. The depth chart does not matter when he is under center (shotgun formation of course is not 'under' center) and he must do everything within his power to make strangers scream for him. Until either one of those guys realize this, the fans will always want the other one to be the starter.