Burlington, Iowa, is Hawkeye country, 62 miles from Iowa City, and if you were born and raised the son of Harley and Elda Sherwood, you were darn well expected to be an Iowa Hawkeye in body and soul.

And so when Harley and Edna's son, Ted, a star linebacker and end at Burlington High School, began to take recruiting visits to Illinois and Nebraska and Iowa State, some Burlington people began to wonder why it was taking so long for young Ted to sign up with the Hawkeyes.

What the good people of the Mississippi River town didn't know was that Burlington High math teacher and sophomore football coach John Smull, Tucson High, Class of '56, had played on the then-best Arizona Wildcats team in school history, the 8-1-1 club of 1961.

Smull, who initially signed to play for Iowa but was detoured by an injury and attended junior college in Muscatine, Iowa, shipped film of Ted Sherwood to UA football coach Jim LaRue, who was immediately interested.

"As far as I know, we had only had one player from Iowa ever on our team, Mike Hawk, a hard-nosed linebacker from Cedar Rapids," LaRue said. "So when we got the film of Ted Sherwood, we figured he had the same kind of makeup. John Smull knew what he was talking about."

Says Smull, who is retired and living in Burlington: "I'm all Wildcat, even today. I took a lot of grief for sending Ted down to Tucson."

Sherwood left Burlington on a frigid February morning, 1966 - "colder than the blue blazes," he says now - and flew to Tucson. He was dazzled by the blue sky and by the winter colors. On the flight back to Iowa, he knew he would not be a Hawkeye.

"I told my dad I wanted to be a Wildcat, and he was candid with me," Sherwood remembers. "He said, 'This won't be a popular decision in Burlington. A lot of people won't understand, but it's your life.' He left the decision up to me."

Ted Sherwood is the last Iowan to play a football game for Arizona. That's not necessarily news in itself; Arizona hasn't had players from Delaware or South Carolina or a lot of other places over the last 45 years. The story is that Sherwood might be the most unlikely Wildcat football player ever and, today, one of the program's most enthusiastic supporters.

He hasn't lived here since 1969 (although he plans to retire here). And yet when the first "Wildcat Walk" was held last week, Sherwood was in the front row, dressed in red. If you show up for a game against The Citadel, flying in from Kansas City, as Sherwood did, you're not faking it for Dear Old Alma Mater.

Do you realize that at 3 a.m., on Aug. 15, the day single-game tickets went on sale, Sherwood awoke in his Indianapolis hotel room to make sure he would not get shut out of the Iowa game?

"I knew that 10,000 Iowa fans would be buying tickets for this game; that's the culture of Iowa football and the passion for the Hawkeyes," he said. "Fortunately, jumped online and got the tickets I want: 50-yard line, upper deck, 18 rows from the front. I always sit there."

Sherwood had a productive UA career: He was a second-team All-WAC end in 1969, he started on the 8-3 Sun Bowl team of 1968 and, in a coincidence of note, he got to play at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium in 1969. Iowa and Arizona played a home-and-home series in 1969 and 1970.

Sherwood caught a 19-yard touchdown pass in that Iowa City game (Arizona lost 31-19) in which he was one of the top story lines in the buildup to the game.

"What I took away from my years at Arizona, and I'm sure it's the same for many college football players, is that it played a huge role in the rest of my life," Sherwood said. "I've got so many lifelong friends from the UA. I cherished those years.

"I grew up in a real Opie Taylor-Andy of Mayberry lifestyle in Iowa: My grandparents were farmers; my mom was a nurse; my father owned a small construction company. But I made my connection in Tucson. The only thing I regret is that it came and went so fast."

Sherwood came of age as a Wildcat, played in memorable WAC showdowns against long-ago power Wyoming and in some noted blood feuds, including the 1968 "Ultimatum Game" against the Sun Devils.

Sherwood initially hoped to be a veterinarian, changed course and spent time on Johnny Majors' coaching staff at Iowa State. He left football, he says, because "you're hired to be fired." He now helps his wife operate beauty salons in the Kansas City area and also works in the restoration industry for homes and businesses damaged by storms, floods and fires.

He plans to have a reunion with his old high school coach, Smull, during the UA-Washington homecoming game next month.

"The way Iowa is playing, you probably couldn't find another Wildcat fan in this state right now," said Smull. "But if you look hard enough, you can find us."

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com