IOWA CITY, Iowa — In the final moments before Iowa takes the football field, somewhere between the Back in Black/Enter Sandman montage and ball flying through the air, the Hawkeyes gather around fullback Drake Kulick for one lasting pep talk.
With a fiery tone, Kulick let his emotions run roughshod on his teammates. By the time Kulick is finished, most of the players would run through Kinnick Stadium’s brick exterior. That certainly was the case before a night kickoff against Penn State two months ago.
“Three hundred and 22 days ago, that’s how many days since we walked into their house and they said we quit. Well I tell you what fellas, today they are in our house. The doors are locked and there’s no getting out. We’ve got a 60-minute fight in front of us and it’s time to punch them in the face and that they can never say that we quit ever again fellas. It is time to punch the … gas. Let’s go, Hawks on three.”
“There’s no fake energy when it comes to him,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. “It’s all real, it comes from the heart with him. It’s something special about him. He loves the game and he loves everything about it.
“He’s always been like that,” Iowa linebacker Bo Bower said. “I think putting him in that spot was a good way for him to show that emotion and it helps the team before games. I like it.”
Kulick, a senior walk-on from Muscatine, Iowa, rooms with Jewell, Bower and tackle Ike Boettger. The passion Kulick displays in pregame is exactly what he brings to every practice, workout and game. He attacks every day to the point where all of his roommates use similar adjectives when describing Kulick.
Midway through an interview session, Bower hollered at Boettger halfway across a room to find a good description of Kulick.
“What did you say?” Bower yelled.
“Very emotional,” Boettger shouted back.
“Hey, he’s very emotional. That’s a good way to put it,” Bower said. “He’s crazy. I’m crazy, too, but he’s got a whole different level of crazy to him.”
Even football coach Kirk Ferentz got into the act.
“He’s a little off center, which it helps if you’re a fullback,” Ferentz said.
With a piercing stare, Kulick’s intensity is on display at all times. As he enters his final game at Kinnick Stadium. it’s worth looking back at the one moment when Kulick’s crazy kept the Hawkeyes on track for a victory
In Iowa’s home finale against Nebraska in 2016, Kulick was on the field for the first play. The Hawkeyes lined up in their smash-mouth formation of two tight ends, a fullback and running back LeShun Daniels. Kulick, who was off-set to the left, was instructed to block Nebraska defensive end Ross Dzuris, who was way to his right. Kulick cut in front of the handoff to Daniels, who ran up the middle, and Kulick slammed into Dzuris.
Daniels broke the arm tackle from Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey and blasted up the middle. As Rose-Ivey slipped off Daniels, he flew into Kulick, who remained engaged with Dzuris. Both defenders crashed into Kulick’s left leg, which snapped like a twig.
“It went just like any other play,” Kulick said. “Unfortunately LeShun was just way too strong for the guy trying to tackle him. He shucked him off and my leg just happened to be there. It was a tough injury.”
Boettger, who opened the game at right tackle, and left tackle Boone Myers offered Kulick a hand up. Then they saw his leg and started waving for the sideline.
“He actually asked me to pick him up and I was going to pick him up because I had no idea and then I saw his leg,” Boettger said. “Obviously I was just going to let the professionals take care of that.”
On the sideline, both Bower and Jewell took notice when they saw someone was injured.
“I remember sitting on the bench and I saw someone down and I asked who it was, and they said Drake,” Bower said. “So I kind of got up and looked and it might have been worse than what I thought. When a cart comes on the field, it’s worse.”
Kulick sat on the field as trainers and doctors rushed to his aid. They quickly slapped a mobilizer on his leg and lifted him into the cart.
As he looked around, Kulick removed his gloves. Written on the tape covering his right wrist were the words, “Never Quit.” On the tape over his left wrist were the numbers of injured seniors who couldn’t play on their senior day.
In an act of sportsmanship, Rose-Ivey came over and hugged Kulick. Then Kulick held up his right thumb and the crowd cheered. As the cart left the field, Kulick started shouting at his teammates to stay upbeat. He gave one last arm wave to the crowd before the cart headed through the stadium medical facility.
“I was trying to maybe deliver the message to the team that they didn’t need to worry about me,” Kulick said. “I was going to be just fine. The only thing that mattered was going out and winning the game, the only goal that we had in mind before the game. My leg certainly isn’t as important as the task that we had at hand. So I didn’t want them to worry about me. I didn’t want them to think about me. I let them know I would be all right and go out and do what they’ve got to do.”
“Honestly, we had to not let it affect us since it was so early in the game,” Boettger said. “We didn’t want that to kill the vibe because we had a great vibe going into that game. Injuries are probably the worst thing about the sport of football. We all know they’re going to happen.”
Kulick had his leg reset inside and begged to watch the game from the sidelines. The medical staff relented and Kulick enjoyed the Hawkeyes’ 40-10 victory. Then he left for University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics across the street from Kinnick Stadium for surgery.
The next morning, it took one plate, eight screws and two wires to piece his leg bone back together. Obviously he was out for Iowa’s bowl game, but what about the next spring, summer and season?
That’s where the healing became more difficult for Kulick. He had to let his leg recover before he could train. He was withheld from contact during spring practice. In what he called “a long process,” Kulick spent the summer just trying to return to his former level. He still wasn’t there by late July when he returned to practice.
“I was pretty nervous,” Kulick said. “I was pretty unsure and it was definitely, it was rough getting back. I’m glad that coaches didn’t lose faith in me because they easily could have. I wasn’t nearly where I was before the injury. I really thank coach Brian [Ferentz] for that. He kind of told me every day, ‘Drake, you have nothing to prove. We know what you’re capable of doing. We just need you to get back to where that is. I know you’re going to.’ He was very positive through the whole thing. I truly appreciate it because I was really hard on myself knowing that I wasn’t performing the way that I could, the standard I held for myself.”
Kulick still made his way on the field for the season opener and has played in every game this year. He doesn’t have a rushing attempt but has 3 catches for 31 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown reception against Ohio State.
Perhaps the injury triggered the crazy in Kulick. Maybe it was always there and this season he lets it flow in his pregame speech.
“He’s jacked up,” Boettger said. “Everybody has their own way of getting ready for a game, but he’s definitely outspoken and very emotional.”
“I want everybody to maybe feel as passionately about it as I do,” Kulick said. “I don’t know necessarily if I’m like an inspiration. I do have a fiery passion for winning and I’m more than willing to convey that to the team.”
For one last time on Saturday, Kulick will punch the emotional gas on Kinnick Stadium’s sidelines. After what happened in the 2016 finale, and with Boettger out for the season with an Achilles injury, expect Kulick’s words to last for a lifetime.