AMES — When the three Ferch boys lined up for front-yard football games in State Center, the ground rules were set in concrete.
The street was out of bounds.
The unforgiving curb served as the edge of the sideline.
“There were a few broken bones here and there,” Iowa State linebacker Drake Ferch said.
It’s that home-grown version of “Hard Knocks” that helped turn the Ferch borthers into top performers at West Marshall High School — and set all three on a path to the top tiers of college football.
Drake, a walk-on senior for the Cyclones, has maintained his grip on the top SAM linebacker spot throughout fall camp.
Dalton, a former ISU walk-on, as well, now hopes to join his brother, Duncan, as part of Northern Iowa’s football team.
“It was very competitive,” Drake Ferch said of vying for brotherly supremacy growing up. “We had a lot of little fights when we were little, whether it be basketball, video games.… Growing up with two other boys — and my dad’s very competitive, as well; he didn’t really let us win when we were younger. So we got that competitive streak from the beginning, but it was a good time.”
Ferch fielded primarily Division II offers out of high school, so chose to better himself at Iowa Western Community College, where he snared 12 interceptions in two seasons before walking on at ISU.
He played in all but one game last season, mostly on special teams, and made three tackles.
The 5-11, 209-pounder then made a quick switch from safety to strong-side linebacker in the spring and it’s clearly been a positive move.
“Being down in the box, you just get a little more adrenaline, I guess,” Ferch said. “You get a little more rush being down there. You’ve got be in the box with the big boys so you’ve got to bow up with them. Other than that, it’s not too different.”
The meanness factor ratchets up, though.
“You want to be a little more physical, so you’ve got to show that you’re tough, I guess,” Ferch said. “But other than that, I’m out of the box most of the time that I’m in there. I might have to roll back inside, but I try to use my speed to get around them. If I get caught up with them they’re probably going to use their strength to their advantage.”
Consider it a bonus that Ferch has thrived since the change.
Talented fellow senior and former starter Jared Brackens will undoubtedly see plenty of time on the field — even if he doesn’t wrest away the outright starting spot as camp winds down.
“He’s a different kind of guy, a different personality,” Defensive Coordinator Wally Burnham said of Brackens, who ranked third on the team in tackles last season with 61. “But since he came back in the spring, he’s always been positive. … He doesn’t gripe. Last year we had some little problems when he came out of a game and we were putting someone else in. Haven’t seen any of that. He’s been on second team ever since he came back, but he’s doing real well. Doing real well. It’s been a pleasant surprise, his attitude.”
So for now, at least, it’s Ferch at No. 1 and Brackens at No. 1a.
Whether that changes as the Aug. 30 opener against North Dakota State draws closer depends on a variety of factors — many of which both can control.
“We’re going to keep evaluating until game week,” Burnham said. “But right now, I wouldn’t have any problem if (Brackens) was out there. And I certainly wouldn’t have any problem if Drake’s out there. So, it’s a good problem to have. I think we’ve got two athletic kids. Jared’s more athletic, but Drake’s always in the right place. So that helps both of them.”
Being a Ferch helped Drake out first.
And the sideline’s much softer now, even as the competition becomes even fiercer.
The goal Ferch nurtured in high school, then at Iowa Western, finally seems within reach as the last big scrimmage of fall camp looms Saturday.
“I wanted to see if I could play at this level and come give it my all for two and a half years,” Ferch said.