MARVIN MCNUTT JR. IS A FAMILY MAN. THE IOWA WIDE RECEIVER KNOWS A TEAM IS A brotherhood. He knows being a senior member of a family carries a certain weight. He knows families suffer through trials and that the tough times are when family members need each other the most. So after a 2010 Hawkeyes season filled with frustrating losses and off-field scandals, McNutt knew it was time to assume a leadership role befitting an Iowa patriarch.
"To lead by example is huge," McNutt said. "With the young players, letting them know that if I'm ever not living up to the standards they think I should be, they can come talk to me. And they want the same courtesy from me to them. We need to communicate well, because we're all part of the same team."
McNutt nearly wasn't part of the same team. After catching 53 passes for 861 yards and eight touchdowns and earning second-team All--Big Ten honors in 2010, the 6' 4", 215-pound wideout contemplated entering the NFL draft. A chat with his flesh-and-blood family in St. Louis helped McNutt decide to return to Iowa City for his degree in interdisciplinary studies—and for one more shot at gridiron glory with his Iowa brothers.
That brotherly bond is particularly strong between McNutt and new starting quarterback James Vandenberg. Off-season shoulder and thumb surgeries kept McNutt from spring practice, but he didn't need that time to form a connection with Vandenberg. The two have been close since shortly after Vandenberg became a Hawkeye, and their families (Vandenberg's is from Keokuk, Iowa) regularly sit together at games. "I always call James my brother," McNutt says.
Iowa hopes that partnership is as fruitful on the field as it has been off it. Coach Kirk Ferentz believes this offense can be superbly balanced, thanks in part to McNutt. "Our receiving corps has gained experience the last two years," Ferentz says. "Certainly Marvin is a guy who's proven himself."
McNutt, who had a touchdown catch in eight of Iowa's games last year, doesn't feel as if he is finished proving himself, though. "As a leader the goal is to improve as a player, which will help the offense improve, which will help us improve as a team," McNutt says.
Considering that he accounts for nearly 70% of receptions among returning players, McNutt doesn't have as far to go in raising his game as most Hawkeyes. But if junior receiver Keenan Davis, sophomore running back Marcus Coker or others need a confidence booster, they can turn to McNutt for the family pep talk. "These guys are in this situation for a reason; they make plays," McNutt said. "But we're all here together, so we let them know it's not a one-man crew."
Last December, when it came time to address the team's player arrests and negative press, McNutt didn't shy away. While he and his Iowa brothers won't go into specifics, McNutt says the resolution was simple: The Hawkeyes would move forward as one. "We had issues in-house," McNutt says. "That said, we as players and coaches sat down and discussed it and talked about things that could be changed. We got stronger as a unit. We knew it was going to be hard, that we were going to have those things on our backs.
"But we told each other: Let's bring it together. Let's come together as a family."