Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation articles, a project that aims to give readers greater insight into the Class of 2017 signees. Land of 10 Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse are traveling the country to meet the Iowa incoming freshman class. This week, we feature 4-star T Mark Kallenberger and his walk-on DL brother Jack Kallenberger from Bettendorf, Iowa.
BETTENDORF, Iowa — Football drills at perennial power Bettendorf High School had a little more excitement in the fall of 2014.
Senior Jack Kallenberger, a tenacious defensive lineman with a mean streak to match, often was paired against younger brother Mark, a sophomore offensive lineman. As expected, the clash energized themselves, their teammates and the coaching staff.
“Someone would come up and say Kallenberger brothers or something like that,” Jack said. “You’d get an oooh, from the crowd.”
“At that point, I was a little sophomore,” said Mark, who now stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 270 pounds. “I wasn’t really that great. I was probably the fourth-best offensive lineman. But Jack was definitely one of the best on the defensive side that we had. He was a lot better than I was and am still.”
Jack, now 6-5 and 260, brutalized his brother. Mark remembers beating Jack in only a handful of drills that year, usually in pass protection. Then Jack would get his revenge.
“He never let up on me,” Mark said. “After the whistle blew, he would keep on. If it was a drill and we had to go against each other, and the whistle blew, he’d still give an extra push.”
“Honestly, the last thing I was thinking of was I wanted to make him a better football player,” Jack said. “It was more like, ‘I’ve got to show him who’s the big dog here.’ “
Jack finished that year with 14 sacks — the most in 4A, Iowa’s largest class — and 23 tackles for loss en route to first-team all-state acclaim. Mark built a profile from his negative practice experiences and became one of the state’s most decorated offensive linemen. He earned first-team all-state honors in 2015 and 2016.
Both are locked in for their first week of training camp at Iowa but their path to Kinnick Stadium could not have been more different. Mark was a 4-star recruit sought by nearly every team in the Midwest. Jack didn’t have the grades to play Division I football and had to excel at a junior-college program just to walk on with the Hawkeyes.
Now, they’re both at the same level. Mark figures to redshirt this fall as he bulks up. It’s undetermined if Jack will join him on the sidelines for a year or be pressed into action right away. Either way, they have earned their way to Iowa.
Mark Kallenberger’s story
Mark Kallenberger has the perfect build for a tackle. He’s tall and wide with a frame that can expand with strength training.
He started for three seasons at one of the state’s best high school programs and finishes off opponents with aggression. But it was when he attended a camp at Wisconsin before his junior year that he learned he could play at a high level.
“After the first session was over, only three people were chosen to do testing, flexibility, and I was one of them,” Mark said. “So they said they would keep contact with me, to email them if I wanted to come on a visit, stuff like that. That’s kind of what started it all.”
Early in his junior season, Eastern Michigan offered Mark. Then Nebraska. Before he knew it, schools were flocking to him with interest and offers.
“Once Nebraska offered me, things started speeding up,” he said. “It was right after our first playoff against Davenport North. We beat them, and my whole Twitter was blown up by all of [Nebraska’s] coaches. I had 10 of them follow me on Twitter. Four of them direct messaged me. Then their offensive line coach gave me his number and said, ‘Hey Mark, I want you to call me.’ Then I called him and 10 seconds into the call he offered me a scholarship.”
Iowa State pounced and so did Kansas State. LSU showed interest as did Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Mark grew up a Hawkeyes fan and took a pair of unofficial visits to Iowa City. He had plenty of discussions with the coaching staff, but the staff asked him to remain patient and nothing came forward until a junior day event in early 2016.
It quickly became a competition between Iowa and Nebraska. Despite his fandom, Kallenberger vowed to review each offer analytically. His choice would come down to fit.
“I really liked Nebraska,” Kallenberger said. “I really liked coach [Mike] Cavanaugh, their offensive line coach. I really liked what he had to say but then again he was just trying to make sure I liked what he was saying. He didn’t really tell me any of the hard parts of it all whereas Iowa and [offensive coordinator] Brian Ferentz was, ‘I’m going to be straight up with you. You get here, you’re not my friend. I’m not yours. I’m your coach. It’s going to be the toughest thing that you’ll ever have to do.’ Me coming from just getting done with sports at Bettendorf, our football coaches were the exact same way. I really liked and felt comfortable with Iowa. That’s another thing that separated Iowa from Nebraska.”
Recruiting became overwhelming at times and Mark wanted to pick a school. By March 2016, he opted for Iowa. He made his commitment and brushed off later attempts from Nebraska and other schools to remain strong with the Hawkeyes.
“The thing about Iowa is it’s pretty clear-cut,” said Jay Kallenberger, Mark’s father. “When you make your commitment, you know what the expectations are. You saw it with some other recruits. Mark was like, ‘Hey, we know the rules going into it when we made the commitment. We’re shutting it down.”
“The two biggest things were stability and player development,” Mark said. “Coach [Kirk] Ferentz has been head coach there since 1999 and been there longer than that, and I don’t see any of the coaches going anywhere unless they find a better opportunity somewhere. I think the stability and it’s close to home. We’re 45 minutes away so Easter and stuff like that, I can hop home, eat and go back. It will be real nice.”
Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan — who recruits in-state athletes — touted Mark’s multi-sport versatility on signing day. Mark played center for the Bettendorf basketball team and averaged 6.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game.
“Really a good athlete,” Morgan said on Iowa’s Swarm17 signing day show. “Very athletic. Runs well. Excellent blocker. Physical guy. Great frame.”
Jack Kallenberger’s story
Jack’s cautionary tale is one high school coaches often recite to athletes but often doesn’t resonate until it’s too late.
Jack was a dominant prep football player with eyes on competing in college. However, he couldn’t keep his grades high enough to qualify for a Division I scholarship.
So he chose Iowa Central Community College, located about four hours from his home. With around 200 other players, Jack had to battle just to get noticed. But once he did, he played with the relentlessness he displayed at Bettendorf. As a freshman, Jack had 2 sacks and 9 tackles. The following year, he jumped up to 6 sacks and 52 tackles. He earned first-team all-conference and all-regional honors despite fighting through double teams against Division I-caliber talent. He also competed for a team that finished 0-11 and was outscored 400-124.
“It definitely was a culture shock,” Jack said. “You don’t always get the best quality kids in the junior-college program. You’ve got to be smart with who you hang out with and make sure you don’t get lost in the system, I guess.
“I never really thought that I wasn’t good enough to play. My freshman year was a bit more of a learning curve just because of playing against bigger, stronger, more physical guys than I had seen in high school. I’d never come in and think I wasn’t capable of playing.”
But the offers never came his direction. FCS power Northern Iowa met with him but never extended a scholarship. Iowa and Iowa State showed casual interest but nothing concrete.
“UNI came up to see me one time,” Jack said. “I don’t know what happened after that. They came up to see me on a Monday night before finals. I never heard from them again. They said they were going to line up an official visit and just kind of fell off, I guess.
“I know [Iowa defensive line coach Reese] Morgan keeps up with some of my high school coaches so he kind of kept tabs on me throughout high school, throughout junior college and things started picking up more once Markie committed.”
After his sophomore football season, Jack moved back to Bettendorf to finish his Associate of Arts degree at Scott County Community College. He worked out with former Hawkeyes and Quad Cities natives Pat Angerer and Julian Vandervelde. Perhaps most important, Jack worked out with renowned trainer Matt Rokes of the Athlete Development Project for six months. Jack gained about 20 pounds and significant strength. His brother joined him after basketball season.
“Their work ethic is what’s gotten them to where they’re at,” said Rokes, who credited Bettendorf’s football program for developing the brothers. “Their willingness to learn is what sets them apart. You tell them to do something or tell them to change something, you tell them to do certain things to get stronger or get more mobile, they listen.”
Jack met with Morgan, who extended a walk-on opportunity. He quickly accepted and welcomed the chance to compete at Iowa.
It was a long road from Bettendorf to Iowa City for Jack, but one that he appreciates. Once players put on the pads for Iowa, their pedigree evaporates. Walk-ons are equal with 4-star recruits.
“Iowa does a good job of rewarding guys who go in and perform at a high level,” Jack said. “If I go in there and prove myself, I can earn a scholarship in a semester or a year. That was another reason why I wasn’t very apprehensive to accept that.”
Both Jay Kallenberger and Rokes tout how Jack has matured and become more responsible since leaving high school.
“He didn’t want to do it, the school part of it,” Jay said. “I think Jack would tell you today the best thing that happened to him by going to a junior college is he grew up. He’s matured a lot in the last two years. Yeah, he’s got to pay his own school, but he gets to eat and dress with the team and everything as a preferred walk-on. That’s a big thing.”
“I think the growing experience that Jack learned, going to JUCO was the one of the best things he could do,” Rokes added. “He had to become more independent and become more of an adult. In high school, he just wasn’t mature enough to handle that Division I college experience. I think he would tell you that, too. He had some growing up to do, he did it and it put him in the position that he’s at now.”
A tight family
The Kallenbergers are a close-knit athletic family. Jay met his wife, Melissa, at St. Ambrose University in the late 1980s. Jay played football for the Bees and Melissa was a basketball player for Lisa Bluder, who now coaches at Iowa.
Their eldest child, Kaycee, was an all-state basketball and volleyball player at Pleasant Valley (Iowa) High School. Standing 6-5, Kaycee initially played basketball at Eastern Illinois University, then transferred to Kirkwood Community College and eventually to Division III Augustana in Rock Island, Ill. As a senior last season, Kaycee led the Vikings with 12.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. She broke the school record for rebounds in a season (299) and led the team in blocks (75) and field-goal percentage (.518). She was named first-team all-conference.
With her basketball eligibility expired, Kaycee will finish her athletic career this fall by switching to volleyball.
Although Jay had coached Division I football players at Maquoketa (Iowa), it was a difficult process when Kaycee looked at colleges. He and Melissa were old pros by the time football schools recruited Mark.
“We were much smarter with Mark than we were with Kaycee,” Melissa said. “The third time around we were much smarter. Questions to ask, and things to look for.”
A desire to stay close to home factored in Mark’s decision. He wanted his grandparents to watch his games, like they did in high school. They saw Jack play just twice at Iowa Central. Kaycee remembered barely seeing her family around Christmas when she attended Eastern Illinois.
Kaycee made her intentions known early she wanted her brothers to play at Iowa. She once followed Mark around the house, playing the Iowa Fight Song with hopes that he’d pick the Hawkeyes.
“The one thing all three kids have in common is they’re very tenacious,” Jay said. “None of them want to lose. I would say Kaycee is probably the top in that. Her desire to compete is something special to see.
“All three of them have been there for each other and support each other and that’s one thing that makes us most proud as parents is they’ve always been there for each other.”
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