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November 16, 2007

Senior Day brings special emotions

When they first arrived at Iowa, Bryan Mattison and Kenny Iwebema really didn't like each other.

The two defensive ends arrived on the Iowa campus in the fall of 2003 weighing around 215 pounds and while they were redshirting, they also felt that they were competing for the same spot in the lineup.

On Saturday, the senior defensive end duo will enter Kinnick Stadium for the final time in an Iowa uniform and leave as three year starters, weighing around 270 pounds, and the best of friends.

"We came in at the same time and at first I wasn't sure how much I liked him," Mattison said. "We still joke about it because at the time we were both competing for the same position. Who would have known that we would end up on opposite sides? When we both realized that we were both going to play, we became good friends."

In many ways, college allows a person to grow up and Iwebema and Mattison did that on and off the field the last five years thanks to the coaches and some incredible family support. On Saturday, #92 and #99 will run out to the Kinnick Stadium field for the final time and this time they will find their families waiting for them.

"It will really be joyous to see because it means that Kenny has finished what he started. It is emotional for me," said Veronica Iwebema, who will be joined by Kenny's father Kenneth at midfield.

Ann Mattison will be without her husband. Bryan's father, Greg, is the defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators and on Saturday he has to work, as he has for most of his son's career.

"I have kind of avoided trying to think about this week," Ann said. "I am a fairly emotional person and I tear up every Saturday when we are at home when the music plays as the team comes out of the tunnel. I'll probably tear up several times on Saturday."

Ann Mattison and the Iwebema's will be joined by ten other parents of players from Iowa's senior class in one final Hawkeye good-bye and a day that will be filled with many special emotions.

Their paths to Iowa City were certainly very different from the very beginning. Bryan was the son of a coach and grew up with football. While he didn't start playing the game until the 7th grade, you sort of assume that football was part of his future. He was fortunate enough to be named to the U.S. Army All American Bowl as a senior in high school. Instead of playing for his father, who at the time was coaching at Notre Dame, Mattison chose Iowa.

"I knew he was in great hands with Kirk Ferentz and Norm Parker," said Greg Mattison. "I remember when we dropped him off at Iowa and he was this skinny little kid who was scared to death. I would talk to him every day and early on he was telling me how Robert Gallery was asking him to stay out after practice and do rushing drills against him."

Greg Mattison also played a role in getting Iwebema to Iowa. He was recruiting the Dallas area for Notre Dame and happened to stop by Bowie High School in Arlington one day. He was talking to Iwebema's high school coach who was raving about a defensive line prospect he had and Mattison told him that they were filled at the position. But that led to another conversation about were Iwebema might be headed for college.

"Bryan was already headed to Iowa at that point, so I asked if I could talk to him and just check him out a bit. Kenny came down and I talked to him and congratulated him on his season and he was a great kid to talk to. I asked him where he was going and he told me the schools he was looking at and I told him if I had to make that decision that no question, I would go to Iowa. I told him there are going to be two ends there, you and another guy that I know really well who would be the starting ends for a long time there. He said, really? Who? I said my son. When they became starters at end, I saw him and I laughed and said, see I told you."

Coach Mattison wishes he could be there on Saturday, but he will be about 1,500 miles away with the Gators playing Florida Atlantic. But, his wife will be working her fingers to the bone once again keeping her husband and daughter up to date with text messages.

"My mom sends him text messages during all of the games and everyone around her kind of makes fun of her because all she does during games is send text messages," Bryan said.

Every coach needs a good wife, according to Coach Mattison and he has a good one. For her, keeping the family informed is just part of what the job of a coach's wife.

"After every possession, I send both of them text messages to tell them what went on. I guess I spend about half the game text messaging with them and they really appreciate it. Thank goodness for cell phones and text messaging," said Ann Mattison.

It is tough being a coach's wife and having a son playing major college football. When Coach Mattison took the job at Florida, Bryan had a few years left in college, but the decision of where mom would be was an easy one. Bryan jokes that it is because mom loves him more, but it is also about being there for her son.

"I guess I never have to worry about what I am doing every Saturday in the fall," Ann said with a laugh. "I wanted and needed to be there. It really is hard because I hate to miss the Gator games because that is where we live and we are very involved with the team. But, at the same time Bryan is our only son and I can't miss his games."

While Coach Mattison can only make about one game a year due to the Gators schedule, he cherishes the games that he is able to attend. He speaks with great pride about going to Ann Arbor last year, a place where he spend four years as a coach, and seeing his son play perhaps the best game of his career against Michigan. More importantly, he beams with pride about the man he has become.

"In my profession, the one negative thing is that you don't get to see your son play every game," said Coach Mattison. "He and I are so close. I think we have talked every day since he went to Iowa five years ago. The way he played, the way his career has gone, and the way he has handled himself as a man and an athlete makes me so proud and he knows that."

For the Iwebema's, there isn't any question or decision to make. Veronica and Kenneth head out each and every Saturday, home or away, to see their son and be with him. While some might see it as a sacrifice, for them it is a labor of love.

"My husband and I always support our children," Veronica said. "I don't look at as a sacrifice at all. I look at it as one of our responsibilities as parents. I look forward to coming to Iowa and watching him every week. Whether we win or lose, just to be there for him and tell him that it was a job well done is what we need to do as parents."

While Kenneth and Veronica are very proud of their son and what he has accomplished on the football field, their best moment and biggest trophy will be the piece of paper that he receives in December as a graduate of the University of Iowa. It is something that Kenny has worked very hard at achieving and he knows that it means a lot to his parents.

"That will mean a lot," Kenny said about earning his degree. "I worked hard for that and probably at times made it harder than it should have been. That was the one thing my parents wanted more than anything else. They really didn't care as much about football, as they did about me getting my degree."

To say that the Kenny and Bryan appreciate the efforts of their parents being there every week for them would be an understatement. Win or lose, they are always there after the game to give their sons a hug, pat them on the back with pride, and tell them that they love them.

"It has meant a lot," Kenny said. "I cannot think of anyone that has had that kind of support. There are probably other guys, but it is a real blessing that I cherish in having them there."

"I would not have been able to do this without her. There is no question about that," Bryan said. "It has been difficult because I know dad wants her there, but he also wants her here even more. After every game, win or lose, she is always outside the locker room with a big hug and that is always special to me."

During the past five years, not only have the Iwebema's and the Mattison's enjoyed watching their sons play football, but they have developed some wonderful friendships and relationships not only with their fellow parents, but many Iowa fans. Those memories will be on their minds on Saturday as well as they make their final trip to Kinnick as the parent of a Hawkeye.

"We have met so many wonderful people in our time with the Hawkeyes," said Veronica Iwebema. "They are a part of our lives and they always will be. We have met so many great people that I can't begin to tell you all of their names. Without Kenny being at Iowa, we would have never made those relationships. They were strangers that became a big part of our lives and they are not only your friends, but they have become supporters of our son. I can't even begin to thank them for all they have done for us."

With her husband working most Saturdays, Ann Mattison has sort of been adopted by Matt Kroul's family, who she jokingly says refer to her at Little Orphan Annie. She vows that while the Gators might move front and center next fall, that a trip back to Iowa will be on her agenda.

"Iowa isn't exactly around the corner for me, but we will make an effort to get back because it has been terrific in spending time with so many great people," Ann said.

In a way, senior day is also a chance for the Iowa fans to say thank you with one last standing ovation for the young men who have given so much to the Hawkeyes and their loyal fans. As their names are called and one by one they run from the tunnel to meet their parents and families, they hear the cheers from the stands. It means a lot to the players and to their parents to hear those cheers one more time, one last time for old times' sake. While they can't say thank you to each fan in the stands while they are on the field, they appreciate the support very much.

"I want to say thank you to the Iowa fans," Veronica Iwebema said. "I know I won't be able to say it there on Saturday, but thank you. I appreciate them. My family appreciates them. Kenny appreciates them. They tell me thank you for sending your son to Iowa. The thank you should be to them for recognizing that my son has something to offer. Kenny grew up in Iowa and I am very proud to say that."

Speaking for the Hawkeye fans, we say thank you to Veronica, Kenneth, Ann, and Greg, for sending your son to the University of Iowa and for the memories that they have provide us over the years.

Thank you to Jean and Lloyd Busch. Thank you to Michelle and Tom Gattas. Thank you to Alice Carter and El Roberson (parents of Charles Godfrey). Thank you to Nancy and Reggie Humpal. Thank you to Mary and Myron Klinkenborg. Thank you to Deb and Pat Moylan, who we hope to thank again next year. Thank you to Patty and Ed Olszta. Thank you to Fran and Mark Shada. Thank you to Joy Clayton and Lawerence Gardenhire (parents of Damian Sims). Thank you to Darlene Young and Carson Miller (parents of Albert Young). Thank you Hawkeye seniors.


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