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Robert Neustrom born to be a Hawkeye

Hawk Talk
Iowa junior baseball player Robert Neustrom with North Liberty Leader sports writer Don Lund at the Hawkeyes’ annual media day Feb. 8. (contributed photo)

This is the second part of Robert Neustrom’s story of growing up a Hawkeye.
It started in the 1930s when his grandfather Bob listened to Hawkeye football on the radio.
Ozzie Simmons was the star running back out of Texas playing for Iowa from 1934-36 and one of Bob’s favorite players.
Ozzie is one of the reason Iowa plays Minnesota for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
The Gophers, a national football power at the time, had pounded the Hawks 48-12 in 1934 in Iowa City.
Tensions were high after that game and Ozzie was a target of the Minnesota players’ wrath and insults.
The governors of Iowa and Minnesota made a friendly wager on the outcome of the game in 1935.
The bet was the winner of the game would be awarded Floyd of Rosedale, a full-blooded champion hog.
The Gophers won 13-6 and they took home the pig.
A St. Paul sculptor created a bronze likeness of the hog, which is 21 inches long, 15 inches high and weighs 94 pounds.
The Hawkeyes have had the trophy for the last three years.
Fast-forward to the early ‘60s when Tim, Robert’s dad, and his twin brother Terry started listening to the Hawkeyes on the radio (there were very few Iowa games on TV).
The twins got me on the Hawkeye bandwagon in 1963, when they became my classmates in fourth grade.
Jump ahead to the fall of 1975 when Tim and Terry walked on the Hawkeye football team and even though it was for only a cup of coffee, they had a chance to live out their dream.
I was a football manager for the Hawks at the time and the twins were University of Iowa students for a year.

Robert had a really good high school career as a three-year starter in football playing quarterback, wide receiver, defensive end, linebacker and punter at Sioux City North High School.
Robert was third team all-state as a punter, averaging over 39 yards per punt his senior year. He played varsity basketball for three years, went to state all three years and started as a senior.
Baseball is where Robert stood out, = named Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior when hit batted .540, hit 19 doubles and had 48 RBI.
His senior season saw him hit .472, with six home runs and 48 RBI.
Despite Robert’s success and good size (6-3, 195), he didn’t have any big school offers.
Do I hear a Josey Jewell story?
“The two that expressed interest were NIAC and Iowa Central,” said Rob. “So I had two junior college offers and then I had one Division II offer and that was Augustana (Rock Island, Illinois).”
Iowa came in late in the picture.
“We were aware of Robert and talked to some people in Northwest Iowa that had dropped his name,” said head coach Rick Heller.
Coach Heller said Kirk Speraw, assistant basketball coach (who went to school at Sioux City North), told Iowa about Robert pretty early.
“They were they only Division I who called me,” Robert said. “I went in August before my senior year to the junior showcase. I went to an evaluation camp here and it was kind of my last opportunity. I did really well. Everything went really well.”
Two weeks later.
“They told me that ‘we just don’t have a spot for you’,” Robert recalled. “I was heartbroken, it was my dream school. I’ve always wanted to play any sport here (Iowa) but baseball is what I love.”
Robert said he remembers thinking, “When one door closes I still had a couple of junior college offers and I was pretty set on going JuCo.”
One month later.
“Coach Heller called me,” said Robert. “I can remember when he called me he said, ‘Is this Robert?’
“I go ‘yeah, who’s this?’
“He goes ‘this is coach Rick Heller from Iowa.’
“My first word was ‘What?’
“I was shocked because I was probably two or three weeks from committing to a school,” Robert said. “They had told me that Iowa was no longer an option for me.”
Coach Heller told Robert, “Hey, we need to get you down here.”
“I was pretty much sold when he said that,” Robert recalled.
Robert was a walk-on his freshman year and was on scholarship his sophomore season.
“I remember we all showed up in our locker room one day and we had our name tags and our numbers on them,” Rob recalled. “I saw 44 and I’m like ‘44, that’s a cool number.’” (As in Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson.)
As a freshman, Robert hit .307 with 24 runs and 24 RBI.
Robert hit .462 in the Big Ten Tournament as the Hawks got beat by Ohio State in the championship game.
Robert was named the Number Two impact freshman in the Big Ten as the Hawks went 30-26 for the season, 12-12 in the Big Ten.
“It took me a while to become an everyday guy,” Robert said. “I knew I was going to have to deal with adversity, but we had a lot of good upperclassman leadership to help me.”

Last season, Robert got to live out one of his childhood dreams by helping the Hawkeyes win their first Big Ten Tournament title.
They beat Northwestern, 13-4, in the championship game.
“It was sweet,” said Robert about the title. “We were up big that whole game, but you never know.”
The Hawks finished 32-22. 15-9 in the Big Ten and won a game in the NCAA regionals.
Robert was second team All-Big Ten, batted .310 with nine home runs and 55 RBI.
Jake Adams led the way with 29 home runs, which led the Big Ten and was a conference record.
“Robert and Jake complemented each other, as well as Mason McCoy,” said coach Heller. “All three were tough outs and the opposing teams couldn’t pitch around all of them.”
Rob was also Academic All-Big Ten and had 79 hits, which was the third most in the Big Ten.
Robert also got a walk off home run against Ohio State which is one of his favorite moments… so far.

Robert played in the prestigious Cape Cod league last summer, hitting .302.
“I came in as a temp,” said Rob. “My main goal was to have a full contract. I became a full and made the all-star team. That was a great opportunity against some of the best competition in the country.”
In late August, Iowa played in the World University Games in Taiwan and won a Silver medal.
Robert hit a team-best .387 with six runs, six RBI and seven extra-base hits.
“They love Americans,” Robert said. “We felt like rock stars.”
This year the Hawkeyes are 29-18, 9-9 in the Big Ten after the Northwestern series last weekend.
Rob is currently batting .328, second on the team, and he leads the Hawks in home runs with 11.
Robert was voted captain this season, and coach Heller said he leads more by example.
“What Robert does that’s really good is to take the guys aside and does some one-on-one with the younger guys,” said the coach.
Robert has a really good chance of being drafted by a major league baseball team this summer.
“It’s hard not to think about it,” said Robert. “I try to just focus every day and have fun.
“With hard work, dreams turn into goals.”
Coach Heller said Robert’s future is bright.
“His best years are still coming,” said coach Heller. “Once he gets 25, 26 years old I think Robert has a chance to play in the big leagues. The potential, the ability and he’s a good teammate.”
Robert has come a long way since he and his dad started coming to Iowa football games in 2005.
When Robert was staying at my place, he and his cousin Ben (a West High grad) used to mess with me so I had to beat them down.
They always came back for seconds, so I thought Robert had a chance to be pretty tough.
Now, when Robert wears short sleeve shirts and I see the gun show, with his Iowa weight training, the beat-downs are a thing of the past.
Robert has a long line of great athletes in the family.
At this rate, Robert has a chance to be the best Neustrom of all… so far.