Friday, September 4, 2009

From Walk-On to Starter, O’Meara Gets His Shot

The tattoo honors his mom’s Samoan heritage. The anthropology major is from dad. The football is 100 percent Paki O’Meara.

Where the football goes from here is anyone’s guess. Judging the Internet debate, there are anonymous doubters. Where this goes eventually will play out. What’s certain is O’Meara has the here and now to show what he can do as the starting running back for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

“He’s a guy who does everything pretty well and that’s not a bad thing to do,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s a smart player. He’s been on the field in special teams, so he’s an experienced player. Those are all good things.

“It’s his turn now.”

O’Meara (5-11, 211) bristles at the “everything well” thought. It’s something you can tell he’s heard a few times being a former walk-on without the big recruiting pedigree who had to fight his way up the ladder on special teams.

“That’s a compliment, I guess,” said O’Meara, who rushed for 1,694 yards in his career at Cedar Rapids Washington. “I like to think of myself as balanced. I can’t think of any one thing that really stands out. I try to contribute anyway I can.”

After an all-state senior year at Washington, O’Meara’s college options included walking on at Iowa or a partial scholarship at Northern Iowa.

He picked Iowa, red-shirted in 2006 and started working his way onto special teams as a freshman. Last season, he played on every special teams unit except field goal.

He really did a lot on Iowa’s 9-4 Outback Bowl winner last year. It was grunt work, sure, but it was football.

“Iowa has a great track record with walk-ons,” said Paul James, Washington’s athletics director and O’Meara’s prep coach. “Just look at guys in the NFL — Dallas Clark, Sean Considine. These are kids who earn it. They’re tough and work for everything they get. That’s Paki.”

O’Meara will be Iowa’s starting running back today because sophomore Jewel Hampton suffered an ACL injury and will miss the 2009 season. O’Meara knows this isn’t a coronation. It might be more of a gauge for how running back will be divided.

O’Meara is one of four pieces to the puzzle. Red-shirt freshman Adam Robinson is next in line with true freshman Brandon Wegher behind him. Red-shirt freshman Jeff Brinson is No. 4.

“Yeah, I don’t know if it’s going to be a two-man, three-man, four-man, but we’ll do whatever it takes to be effective out there,” Ferentz said. “But to answer the question, I’m comfortable (with running back by committee). I think the guys have practiced well, and I’m optimistic they’ll do some good things as we move forward.”

Iowa coaches saw something in O’Meara a year ago. Remember Nate Guillory, the juco RB who left before camp ended last fall? When that scholarship came open, Ferentz awarded it to O’Meara. It kicked in last spring.

It was a nice reward, especially considering O’Meara passed on some scholarship money to walk-on at Iowa.

“I was trying to think of it in financial terms, which is why I was considering a I-AA (FCS) school,” O’Meara said. “I wanted to try to help my parents out.”

The O’Mearas wanted their son to follow the big dream, and that always was Iowa.

“It’s great that he got a scholarship, the money is nice,” Tim O’Meara said, “but it’s more important as a reward and recognition for his talent and really the tremendous amount of work he’s put in.”

Paki designed the tattoo that covers a good portion of his left biceps. It’s quintessential Samoan, a culture that considers tattooing an ancient art. He wanted something that would represent and symbolize his heritage.

“He drew it and he asked me to look at it to see if it was OK,” Fau O’Meara said. “He asked if it was OK and I said yes.”

Tim O’Meara thought Paki might be an anthropology major because of his multicultural background. He said it certainly wasn’t for future employment.

“There are no jobs,” said Tim, an anthropologist who taught the subject at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Now, he works for a company called Waste2Energy Inc.

Paki’s name has footing in both worlds. It’s the Samoan version of his grandfather’s name, “Robert.” Actually, it’s colloquial, so it’s really “Bob.”

It’s his turn.

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