IOWA CITY, Iowa – Until last week, senior lineman Josh Koeppel was just the guy competing with James Ferentz to be the starting center for No. 9 Iowa.
But last Monday, Koeppel's scooter got drilled by a pickup truck on his way to class, sending the 6-foot-2, 273-pound senior flying through the air and onto the pavement. A short video of the accident shot by a nearby police car camera wound up online and Koeppel has become one of the nation's most famous backup linemen seemingly overnight.
"I never would have guessed it would turn into what it has. I mean, it's weird. I was surprised how fast it spread initially," Koeppel said.
"I saw the truck at the last minute and didn't even hit the breaks," Koeppel added. "If you look at the video, obviously a lot worse things could have happened. For me to get out of there alive is a big deal."
Koeppel wasn't wearing a helmet, but he walked away from the accident with just some scratches, bruising and one heck of a story. The crash — and the brutal footage of Koeppel smacking the truck's hood, flipping over and staggering back up, missing a shoe — even landed him a spot on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday morning.
Koeppel was held out of last week's opener as a precaution, but he's be available to play on Saturday when the Hawkeyes host rival Iowa State.
"I do feel pretty lucky. Pretty fortunate. I'm one of the luckier guys in the state of Iowa, that's for sure," Koeppel said.
Anyone who's seen the video would have to agree. But after about five hours of X-rays and tests at a nearby hospital, he was released.
Koeppel and his father got the truck driver's name and went to visit him at his workplace the following day. The driver, who was cited for failure to yield the right of way, was relieved to know that Koeppel was fine.
Though it seems small in the grand scheme of things, the accident put Koeppel behind James Ferentz, coach Kirk Ferentz's son, for the starting job he's been working toward for years.
Koeppel, a native of Iowa City and a former star at Iowa City High, played sparingly throughout his first three seasons after joining the hometown Hawkeyes as a walk-on. He finally earned a shot at starting this season and had battled with Ferentz since spring ball.
The pair remained in a virtual dead heat until Koeppel's accident. Ferentz got the nod for the opener with Koeppel on the sidelines.
Ferentz will start again during Saturday's game against the Cyclones, but coach Ferentz said Koeppel will be in the mix for playing time at center and possibly at guard.
"He's a tough, hard-nosed guy. He's a leader," Iowa offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. "He brings his lunch pail and his hard hat and he does the work and everyone looks up to him for it."
Koeppel suffered through a somewhat awkward appearance on the "Today" show, which ended with him putting on his Hawkeyes helmet seemingly off-cue. That's sure to earn Koeppel some good-natured ribbing from his teammates, who nonetheless are relieved that Koeppel was able to walk away from the accident relatively unscathed.
"We've never really had anything to get on him about — to josh him about, if you will — but know we finally have something," Vandervelde said.