IOWA CITY — There is a finality to it all that is starting to hit Iowa offensive lineman Ross Reynolds.
Performing throughout the year the way the Hawkeyes expect a fifth-year senior to compete, the starting left guard on the Iowa offensive line earned all-Big Ten honors from both conference coaches and a media panel in his first full season as a starter.
A little over a week ago Reynolds received a degree in business from Iowa, standing in line to receive his diploma next to the teammate he lines up next to every game, starting center Keegan Render.
Saturday, he joined his teammates in returning to practice following a brief three-day break as the Hawkeyes turn their attention to Outback Bowl opponent Mississippi State and the game plan coaches assembled while the players had some time to themselves.
“The main thing is to finish strong, finish with a game that we can all be proud of,” Reynolds said. “For all of us seniors, this is the last chance we have to put on the black and gold and wear an Iowa jersey. It’s the end of pretty good chapter in life for all of us.”
Reynolds is one of 12 seniors who will be playing their final game for the Hawkeyes in the 11 a.m. game on New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
It’s familiar territory.
The Hawkeyes ended the 2016 season there with a 30-3 loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl.
Reynolds played in just four games that year as a sophomore, watching the season come to a disappointing conclusion against the Gators.
“You don’t want it to end that way. That was a tough loss for those seniors,” Reynolds said. “Last year, winning in New York City (in a 27-20 win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl), the feeling in the locker room after that game was totally different, and the momentum, it carried over to this season. We want that to part of our legacy.”
The 6-foot-4, 295-pound Waukee, Iowa, native has created his own legacy, following a developmental pattern that mirrors the growth of a number of previous Iowa linemen who emerged late in their collegiate careers to thrive as a seniors.
“The two years I’ve been around him, he’s made some great strides and from what I understand, it’s a path a lot of guys around here have taken over the years,” offensive line coach Tim Polasek said. “Guys put the hard work in, learn the system, get the technique down, and for some, wait their turn.”
Polasek believes Reynolds, a second-team all-Big Ten choice of conference coaches and a third-team selection by a media panel, will get an opportunity to compete for a spot on an NFL roster.
“I really feel like he has a shot to make that happen, and Render, he’s right in there, too,” Polasek said. “They’ve given themselves a chance with what they’ve put into their games.”
Reynolds said it took some time things to really click for him.
“It was probably between my third year and the end of spring ball a year ago. It took me some time to get it all figured out. My junior year, I was able to play the way I needed to play to be effective and hold my own,” Reynolds said.
“When you play the offensive line at Iowa, the bar is set pretty high and the consistency in my technique, the approach with every snap, it doesn’t just happen for most guys. It takes some time to get there, and it tests you.”
Reynolds stuck with it, continued to work to improve and ultimately grew to the point where he was able to maintain a level of performance that gave him a chance to compete.
“There are always things to work on, always will be, but when I think back to where I started and where I’m at now, I’m a totally different player,” Reynolds said. “It took a lot of patience and perseverance.”
The latter will be important again as Reynolds prepares for his final collegiate game.
In Mississippi State, Reynolds knows Iowa will be challenged by a defense that that leads the nation, allowing only 12 points per game, and ranks third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards allowed at 268.4.
The Bulldogs feature a veteran defensive front line led by a pair of all-Americans, junior nose guard Jeffery Simmons and senior end Montez Sweat, in addition to fifth-year senior Braxton Hoyett at a tackle position.
“They play physical, and they play fast,” Reynolds said. “They’re the type of line you would expect to see from a defense that has played the way they’ve played.”
Reynolds said working against the Iowa defense, which ranks seventh in the FBS in allowing 289.6 yards per game, is helping Iowa prepare for its Outback Bowl opponent.
“Going up against those guys every day, our defensive front, you have to get better if you want to have a chance,” Reynolds said. “Those guys deserve a lot of credit for getting me to where I’m at right now.”