JOHNSTON — After awhile, the kids just wanted to dive through the middle of the rolling hole that is the latest in tackling dummies.
Senior safety Brandon Snyder could only smile. You can tell a 10-year-old the point is to get your head across, wrap your arms and drive your shoulders. But that’s no fun. And that rolling thing looks kind of like a doughnut, so why not jump through the hole?
It was a beautiful Saturday for exactly that at Johnston Middle School, where about a dozen Hawkeyes ran a couple hundred kids through drills.
“A few of those,” senior defensive tackle Matt Nelson said about questions on his size. He’s 6-8, 290-something pounds. “They’re looking up and they say, ‘How big are you?’ I got a few of those.”
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t above the grilling from today’s Iowa youth (kids from as far as Bettendorf showed up).
When Ferentz took a few questions from the group at the end, there was a question about the Hawkeyes making the Super Bowl.
“We’ve got a little educating to do on that one,” Ferentz said with a laugh. “The Super Bowl is something to shoot for.”
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And then there was a semi-pointed question about stopping Penn State. That’s really a very good question.
“I don’t know if he thought it was going to be easy since (running back Saquon) Barkley isn’t there,” Ferentz said. “I wish it was that easy.”
Of course, the players have played the part of campers. That’s probably why it was easy to get a traveling party together on a Saturday morning before finals.
“When I was their age, I was looking up to guys at camps,” senior safety Jake Gervase said. “I wanted to be those guys, so it’s really cool to come out here and put on some drills, try to have a little fun and just try to teach them some stuff.”
OK, is everyone ready to feel a little older? Jake Gervase, what Hawkeyes did you look up to when you were a little fella doing these types of camps? Remember, Gervase is from Davenport.
“It was the first year of the Iowa Legends camp,” Gervase said. “I think I was in sixth grade and it was like Pat Angerer and Tim Dwight. I remember it was cool going through drills with them and getting a chance to actually meet them. Those are a couple of guys who stuck out. I remember Pat specifically.”
This was a volunteer event for the players. You can pay lip service to community engagement or you can get on a bus on Saturday morning before finals and drive three hours to give central Iowa a little Hawkeye touch and humanity.
According to the UI, Iowa student-athletes complete 10,000 community service hours per year. Football mostly volunteers at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the Iowa City school district.
“We just want the guys out doing things,” Ferentz said. “I think it’s good for them and good for their education.”
Players have volunteer community projects going from January through August, when the football isn’t taking all of their time.
“It’s fun to see all of the joy and all of the fun we’re having, how lightly they take everything,” senior wide receiver Nick Easley said. “It’s good to see. Some of the questions were really funny. One of the kids asked coach Ferentz about preparing for the Penn State game this year. That was pretty funny.”
After three years, Iowa paused on its annual spring trip to West Des Moines and Valley High School. Saturday was a makeup for that and part of a senior outreach project for some players.
Community service also is an element of the “Hawkeye Championship,” a summerlong program that ties together workouts, weightroom goals and community volunteering among other things.
“This is a little payback for people who travel five or six hours from across the state to get to Kinnick seven times a year,” Ferentz said. “This seemed like a good way to do it. We’re reaching young people and all of kids have parents, too. It’s a good way to interact with people of all ages and have a feel-good type day.”
— Senior defensive end Parker Hesse still is in a boot immobilizer after suffering a foot injury during spring practice. He walked around the kids practice in the boot and on crutches. Ferentz said he should be OK for summer drills, which start in three weeks.
— Senior defensive tackle Matt Nelson, who missed spring after shoulder surgery, said he’s healthy and should be full-go for summer conditioning.
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“Matt should be full speed when we get going in June,” Ferentz said. “We’ve been moving guys (on the defensive line) all of spring ball. Matt really helped the guys learn how to play inside because he went through that same transition recently. I can’t say enough about his engagement.”
— Nebraska still is expressing FOMO (basically fear of missing out) over its decision to leave the Black Friday tradition it started in 1990.
The topic seeped out this week with reports out of Nebraska saying new AD Bill Moos is talking with Iowa about re-upping for Black Fridays. This became a topic last year when former Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst and former head football coach Mike Riley opted out of Black Friday. That was the shocker last fall when the Big Ten released schedules for the 2020-21 seasons. Instead of Iowa-Nebraska, the Hawkeyes and Wisconsin will meet during the season’s final week, presumably Black Friday. The Huskers will face Minnesota those two years. Iowa and Nebraska will meet on Black Friday in 2018-19. When the Huskers joined the B1G in 2011, Iowa agreed to Black Friday meetings.
Ferentz likes Black Friday. Iowa athletics director Gary Barta likes Black Friday. They don’t care as much about the opponent. This is Nebraska realizing that it goofed up and is now trying to get Black Friday with Iowa back on the books.
“With Nebraska moving into the league, it seemed like a logical thing,” Ferentz said. “ ... It would make sense for a lot of us to finish up with that deal. I feel it’s unfortunate that for whatever reason we moved away from it. It sounds like we’re going to rekindle it whatever year that is.”
Ferentz said he believes Iowa and Nebraska will return on Black Friday in 2022. This might’ve been a “whoops, here’s some news.”
“I think after that, we’re back together,” Ferentz said. “And I think it’s maybe a long-term thing, but I thought the last one was long term, too, and we saw how that turned out.”
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