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Winning Effort in a Losing Cause
Tim Layden
November 30, 1998
Jared DeVries passed up the NFL to play his senior season at struggling Iowa
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November 30, 1998

Winning Effort In A Losing Cause

Jared DeVries passed up the NFL to play his senior season at struggling Iowa

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"This is downtown. Don't blink," he says. "There's the grain elevator where my dad used to work. Over there is my grandfather's farm."

Vern and Marge DeVries have raised five children in Aplington, the first four of whom have all won college athletic scholarships. (Darian, 23, played basketball at Northern Iowa and is now a graduate assistant coach at Creighton; Jodi, 20, plays volleyball at Northern Iowa, where she is a junior; and Dusty, 18, is redshirting as a freshman defensive end at Iowa.) "It's a good thing too," says Marge. "Otherwise, there's no way we could have sent them all to college." One can only imagine the pressure on 14-year-old Jay, a freshman quarterback at Aplington- Parkersburg High.

Next to the house is a neat little shack, adorned with fresh flowers, where for 22 years Marge has operated her own hair-styling business (Marge's Country Parlor), working 12-hour days, with Sundays and Mondays off. Vern worked for 10 years as a laborer at the grain elevator and for the last 21 years as an assistant road foreman for Butler County, a job that allows him the income to spend his nights and occasional early mornings farming. He has raised cows and hogs, and harvested corn and beans, since he was a child on the 160-acre farm that his father, Jake, owned. He has a passion for farming that usually is seen only in literature and on film. "Everything we have comes from the soil," he says. "People forget that."

His romance with farming is a source of gentle contention in the home. "We've been losing money farming for a few years," says Marge. In fact, Vern doesn't own a farm at all. He rents land from his father to raise cows, and he does contract work, combining feed corn and soybean fields for others. But that's not the point. Vern is a farmer at heart, with agrarian sensibilities that he passed along to his children.

None took to the business like Jared did. He started with chores when he was nine, shoveling manure and hauling feed. By the time he was 12, he was stacking hay bales. "I loved doing chores," says Jared. "I have no idea why, but I enjoyed getting up in the morning and going to work."

At 13 he drove a tractor and by 16 he was running the combine solo. He developed his love for Iowa football while listening to the radio in the combine—it was a very loud radio—on Saturday afternoons, as Fry built a solid program for the likes of DeVries to worship. (In February, DeVries may become the first NFL prospect in history to have both participated in and operated a combine.)

Flush with what his Iowa coaches would later call "farm strength," DeVries started at running back as a freshman at Aplington High. He also helped define the antipathy between Aplington and its larger neighbor Parkersburg when, as a freshman, he beat up a Parkersburg senior in front of that town's high school while what seemed like every kid from both hamlets watched. "I was there, and I remember Jared bouncing this kid's head off the sidewalk," says Casey Wiegmann, a Parkersburg native who preceded DeVries at Iowa and now is the starting center for the Chicago Bears. After Aplington High merged with Parkersburg High, DeVries remained a starter and helped the consolidated school win a state title in his senior year.

In DeVries, Iowa coaches saw a raw kid who, at a bony 220 pounds, lacked the speed and quickness to be a college tailback but had plenty to be a defensive lineman if he could add a few pounds. He has added 60 in five years, and along the way terrorized Big Ten offenses almost weekly.

Iowa's difficult season has confused NFL scouts. There is no longer unanimity about DeVries's potential. Some still love his quickness and moves off the ball and his hunger for sacks. "He's going to go high because he has the tools to be an outstanding pass rusher," says Rich Snead, the Tennessee Oilers' director of player personnel. Others fear that he can be handled by a physical offensive lineman and that despite his quickness off the ball, he lacks closing speed. "If a guy gets his hands on him, he's finished," says one AFC scout who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Plus his explosiveness is for one or two steps, not five or 10 yards. I think he's a middle-round guy." His future depends on the team that picks him and on arcane things like defensive schemes.

DeVries isn't sweating. He'll work out for the pros, as instructed, live with his draft position and take his chances in training camp. "I'll lift the 225 pounds 25 or 30 times, do my running and see what happens," he says. "I'm not worried."

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