Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 18, 2018

It’s Kooi-ker. Like the fish.

Fairfield welcomes new sports family to Trojan nation
By Justin Webster, Ledger sports editor | Jan 04, 2018
Photo by: JUSTIN WEBSTER/Ledger photo New City Administrator Aaron Kooiker poses with his Hawkeye helmet from his playing days at Iowa. Kooiker redshirted the ‘91 season and played his last game for the Hawks in the ‘95 Sun Bowl.

In 2012, I moved to the Pella/Knoxville area from Las Vegas to report news during the day and to do play-by-play sports for Prairie City-Monroe at night. My favorite grandpa, who was actually only kin by marriage, had several siblings I had never met, and when I told him I was going to be the “Voice of the PCM Mustangs,” he laughed and said you’re going to get to meet my brother Brian. He explained that his baby brother was the retired, but long-time football coach, athletic director and teacher at PCM, and there was no way we wouldn’t be interacting. It turns out that my grandpa’s brother was my color guy and we spent two amazing years becoming friends because ... “Iowa is officially the smallest place on earth.”


I tell you this interesting, yet seemingly irrelevant story because it proves my point. Fast forward to November of 2017 and a conversation I was having with my new boss Andy Hallman. Andy mentioned that Fairfield was getting a new city administrator and he had a connection to sports. He started to say he played for Iowa and was looking for the name when I received a lightning bolt of confidence and said, “Who is it, Aaron Kooiker?” Andy looked up at me confused and said yeah it’s something like that.

Again, Iowa is the smallest place on earth and I know lots of people, including Aaron for the last 25 years thanks to his father Lyle.

Lyle, or Mr. Kooiker as I knew him growing up, was the superintendant at Iowa Valley for most of my time as a student. Mr. Kooiker is highly respected in Marengo because of the great work he did for Iowa Valley schools. He was voted the outstanding administrator by the Iowa Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers, he received the Iowa Volunteer of the Year Award from Gov. Terry Branstad, and he served on the city council in Marengo and Marengo Memorial Hospital Board. Lyle Kooiker also helped pass a $3 million bond issue in April 2000, just months before he lost his battle with cancer in August.


On top of all that, I spent every other weekend growing up in Iowa City at my father’s house and on Sundays we went to the same church as my superintendant’s college kid Aaron. The church is not the only one of its kind and it isn’t located particularly close to campus, yet 20 plus years ago, we were both there. Aaron, knowing I was his dad’s student and a huge sports fan, actually gave me a pair of Iowa Football practice shorts that I wore religiously until I lost them sometime in my 20s.


Aaron and I sat down just before Christmas to discuss the finer things in life: sports.


Q) Most people know that you ended up playing college football about an hour northeast of Fairfield in Iowa City for the Hawkeyes, but where did your sports history start?

A) Two fold. My dad was a left-handed baseball pitcher that was drafted by the White Sox out of high school. He ended up going to Central College and pitching there instead. I think it was his sophomore year, he ended up tearing a ligament in his elbow while pitching, which is now less serious with a since-discovered procedure known as Tommy John surgery. Without the non-existent surgery, his pitching was just never as good as it was before the injury. The first sports I ever played were probably baseball and basketball because of my dad, my love of the game was obviously a little more football just because it fit me better. My dad was 6’7 and thinner. I just more physically fit football.


Q) What’s your first athletic achievement you remember?

A) In junior high, I had a buddy who showed me an article talking about how I’d hit a homerun in the first inning of each of the first five games of the season. I don’t think my twin brother and I were outstanding athletes because physically we were good basketball players, but our football team wasn’t very good. I think as Evan and I matured, we became better football players and that’s what we really excelled at.

We both ended up being four-year letter-winners in track, three-year letter-winners in basketball and football and I also lettered once in baseball my junior year, and would have as a senior, but didn’t because I stopped playing to prepare for college football.


Q) When did you start getting recruited and when did Iowa get involved?

A) Recruiting didn’t start nearly as early as it does now. I went to Iowa and Nebraska’s football camps between my junior and senior years and that was the beginning of the recruitment process for me. Nowadays, most people are done with the process by the time they start their senior year.

So we went to those two camps and also kept in contact with Kansas State. I think it was December when I committed to Iowa.


Q) So it went very quick? Did you go to those camps in hopes of being recruited?

A) Yes, we were invited to those camps which was a recruiting tool they used back then, but it wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now.


Q) Who received more offers, you or your brother?

A) We had the same and we were pretty intent on going to the same school. We had North Dakota State, Iowa and Nebraska was a little late because they were juggling a bunch of us. If we had gone to the camps at Iowa State and Kansas State, we would have received offers to play there, too. We took the offer from Iowa and we were happy with that one.


Q) Explain how your brother ended up at North Dakota State?

A) As we were going through our first year there in 1991, our offensive line coach, John O’Hara, passed away in February of ’92. Current UConn Head Coach, Frank Verducci took over in 1992 and he and Evan did not get along. He ended up breaking his ankle that fall and never suited up, while I had started to play special teams and spot duty on the line. At the end of the fall ’92 semester, Evan transferred to North Dakota State.


Q) Were you there to just be linemen in general or did you have a specialty spot?

A) I was playing guard at the time. I was a swing and could play both sides. In fact, going into my sophomore year, I was the No. 3 guard. As the season went on, the starting left tackle had given up a number of sacks against Penn State and they kicked me out to left tackle. I don’t think I was physically ready to play until my junior year though.


Q)When do you think you grew into your “man body?”

A) I graduated high school at 17, I actually turned 18 the summer before I left for college and I could have very easily been in the class of 1992. In fact, most kids now born in June graduate a year later. Even though I wasn’t physically ready, I started three games as a sophomore. The first game was at Michigan in the Big House. Then we went to Indiana before coming home against Illinois.


Q) Your first start is Michigan at the Big House with 100,000 people, who is the first person you call when you find out you’re going to start?

A) I called my dad. He congratulated me and told me to do well and play hard. His attitude was more like, “Good, now keep working!”


Q) You walk onto the field at Michigan, what are you thinking and feeling?

A) This is going to be interesting! People have asked me what it was like to play at Michigan and at the time, Ann Arbor was not nearly as loud as Kinnick, or Camp Randall in Madison or The Horseshoe in Columbus. Even Happy Valley at Penn State. Because of the bowl shape to the stadium, it’s not very loud at Michigan.


Q) At what point did you see opposing players and think “That’s _______!”?

A) The guy I started against my first game was a Big 10 honorable mention the year prior, Buster Stanley was his name I think and he was a good football player. I had a rough go of it that game. The next week, I don’t remember the guy’s name for Indiana but he was either second team or honorable mention in the Big Ten that season at defensive end. The third game was against Illinois who had Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy, who were either All-Americans or future All-Americans. After that, they put Ross Verba in at left tackle and I went back to a swing tackle at that point. I did OK, but I didn’t light the world on fire as a sophomore.


Q) So after your sophomore year, Iowa goes to the innagural Alamo Bowl to play California.

A) Even though we lost 38-3, I actually had a decent game against a freshman named Reagan Upshaw who ended up in the NFL. I didn’t play a lot but I played well against him and I was the left tackle when we went down and got the field goal.


Q) So that loss wasn’t your fault?

A) Not all my fault. No.

My junior year I ended up playing as many snaps as the left and right tackles but as the rotater. I did end up starting one game that year for Verba when he got into trouble. We finished the year 5-5-1 after tying Purdue which made us bowl ineligible.

My senior year we played Northern Iowa, so we were 6-4 going into the Minnesota game and had to win to qualify for a bowl.


Q) What is your most memorable game as a Hawkeye?

A) The most memorable game for me was actually my best game playing wise. It was my junior year at Minnesota.


Q) How do YOU measure a good game?

A) Did you have some really good blocks?


Q) At the end of the game, do you both know who won the battle?

A) Oh yeah, you know!

My Sun Bowl game my senior year was a lot of fun. I got to play quite a bit and had a good game. I started my entire senior year at right tackle and played a lot. We beat Washington who was co-Pac 10 champs at the time.


Q) Who’s the best player you ever played against?

A) I would guess Hardy and Rice for Illinois were probably the best opponents.


Q) Since you play against the defense, who was the best player you ever lined up next to for the Hawkeyes?

A) Casey Wiegmann! Work ethic, attitude, knowledge of the game. He was the guy that overall had it all. He also played more than a decade in the NFL. The best part about Casey was he was a good football player and he knew it but he didn’t bother telling you about it, he just went and showed you.


Q) What does it mean to you to be a Hawkeye?

A) It’s a priviledge. An honor to be able to say that I played for the University of Iowa and represented the state of Iowa at the highest level. Not very many people get to say those things.


Q) How did being a Hawkeye prepare you to lead us in Fairfield?

A) The thing you learn from athletics is the work ethic. Going to the University of Iowa and playing on a team like that you learn to work with people. You learn how to communicate with people from different backgrounds. Just being a solid, dependable guy. Look at how Kirk Ferentz has built his team. He has dependable, solid guys that he knows are going to work hard and that’s how he built his program. Similar to Hayden Fry and how he was the CEO and coached the department heads, that’s what I’ll be doing here in Fairfield. Making sure the department heads have what they need, so they can go to go to their employees and lead. I’m not going to be the guy in the ivory tower saying, “I think you need to do this!” I don’t know how to make the water plant or the sewer plant work. That’s not my expertise. My job is to make sure the people who do are set up to be successful. Making sure they get the resources they need.


Q) Which former opponents are your least favorite?

A) There’s two. One borders us to the west. The other resides in the Chicago area. Those are probably the two. My wife Michelle doesn’t understand how I’m OK with Iowa State being successful as long as it’s not against Iowa. She doesn’t understand that because she grew up in Cedar Rapids where they take their hate for Iowa State more seriously.


Q) Are you still active? We are getting old.

A) For the last 14 years I’ve been coaching high school football and some track as well. So that kept me moving.


Q) Are we going to see you join the staff here at Fairfield?

A) Nope. No. Well that depends on what Coach Matt Jones wants. He’s putting in a leadership program now and they have former Hawkeye Woody Orne helping them out.

They don’t need me. If Coach Jones asked me to be involved in some way, but I just don’t think I have the time to committ.

The city of Fairfield is the team I’m focused on right now.

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