LINCOLN — Considering where he lived and the team he followed for three of the formative years of his life, Ben Cotton easily could have developed a hatred — or at least strong dislike — for Iowa football.
Instead of loathing the Hawkeyes, though, Cotton at one point thought about becoming one of them.
So the Nebraska senior tight end will take the field Friday at Kinnick Stadium with nothing but respect for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and his program when the Huskers visit for an 11 a.m. game.
“I was fortunate enough to have met coach Ferentz and coach (Reese) Morgan and a lot of those guys over at Iowa,” Cotton said. “They're great guys ... a lot like coach (Bo) Pelini and our staff here. They teach their players how to be good young men and they teach them to play physical, and that's the way football's supposed to be played.”
The niceties coming from Cotton aren't totally surprising when you're used to the coachspeak he often peppers into interviews, the result of being the son of NU assistant Barney Cotton.
But Ben Cotton also was tucked close to the Iowa State program when his father was the Cyclones' offensive coordinator under Dan McCarney from 2004 through '06, and Cotton was even committed to ISU until Barney Cotton was part of a staff purge.
It was hard not to see that the flame burned hot in the Cy-Hawk series. Ben Cotton just doesn't remember it consuming him as he watched ISU-Iowa games in Ames and Iowa City.
“I think it's a little different for a coach's family (than fans),” Cotton said. “We don't necessarily look into those deep-down-to-the-blood hatred for other teams or anything like that. It was just exciting. Both sets of fans love their teams and it's a solid rivalry game.”
Out of respect for his commitment to ISU, Cotton said, Iowa never offered a scholarship despite him coming to Iowa City for a camp, combine, junior day and visit. That changed when he de-committed after Barney Cotton was let go, and Ben Cotton then had Iowa right there with Louisville.
“As soon as they caught wind that I wasn't going there (to ISU), they offered right away,” Cotton said. “Anything could have happened at that point.
“Those guys are very class-act guys. I just have a lot of respect for those guys and what they do and what they teach and the way they play over there.”
The story goes that Ben Cotton was stuck in the Des Moines airport — waiting out an ice storm to board a plane for Louisville — when Pelini hired Barney Cotton in December 2007. The chain of events then led the Ames High senior to pick Nebraska.
Making it so that it was probably best to never get caught up in all of that rivalry stuff anyway.
“You can take all sides of this,” Cotton said Monday. “For a while, Nebraska was my enemy. For a while, Iowa was the enemy. Then Iowa State became the enemy. Then there was a chance I was going to be a Hawkeye and I became a Husker. It's gone all over the place, but I'm always going to be loyal to my family wherever I'm at.”
This will be the second and last time Cotton plays against the Hawkeyes. It would be nice to leave his mark with a big catch or two, but this season hasn't been about individual achievements for the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder.
Cotton is happy with his 12 receptions and two touchdowns in a Husker offense loaded with threats, because the bottom line for one of NU's leaders is that his team is riding a five-game win streak and one step away from playing for a Big Ten championship.
“I know I'm capable of doing it and I know the coaches are confident in me, if the demand is there,” said Cotton, who had the go-ahead TD at Northwestern. “I'm perfectly content doing my part — doing what I need to do in the blocking game and run game, and maybe making first-down catches and the occasional touchdown. If that's my role on the team, and that's the best way for the team to be the actual best we can, then I'm happy giving that.”
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