116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ORLANDO, Fla. — Dane Belton knew he needed an Orlando Magic hat. Maybe a hooded sweatshirt, too.
Hours after the Hawkeyes’ charter flight landed in Orlando and still days before attending the Magic-Milwaukee Bucks NBA game, the Iowa linebacker/safety went to an outlet mall to check those items off his list.
“I had to get a Magic hat before the game,” Belton said. “I had to support my team.”
What would’ve been a fun shopping spree had more meaning for Belton. The Tampa native is about an hour-and-a-half away from home.
That outlet mall where he stocked up on Magic gear?
“Me and my family go there all the time,” Belton said.
His return to the familiar mall was just part of what has been a special week for Iowa’s hybrid defender.
The closest Iowa game to home for Belton was this year’s Maryland game — a 915-mile drive from Tampa. Orlando, on the other hand, is fewer than 90 miles away.
“Being able to play this close is a great feeling,” Belton said as his family patiently waited about 15 feet away to greet him after not seeing him since May.
That leads to “a lot” of ticket requests. He expects several family members and “eight or so” former high school teammates to be in the stands at Camping World Stadium for Saturday’s game against Kentucky.
Many of those people have “never even been to one of my college games,” Belton said.
He came close to playing in Camping World Stadium before. When he was at Tampa Jesuit High School, the state championship was at the stadium. His team reached the state semifinals — but only the state semifinals — in three of his four years.
“It's tough to for me to talk about this,” Belton said. “I missed it three times.”
Dane was not the only member of the Belton family at Tuesday’s open practice.
His older brother Dan talked to strength and conditioning director Raimond Braithwaite and finally met Kirk Ferentz, the man who has been coaching his younger sibling for the last three years and recruiting him before that.
“This is his first year coaching high school football, so it was great for him and his head coach to be out here watching practice,” Ferentz said. “They’re a great family.”
Before he finally plays at Camping World Stadium, Belton had that Magic hat he bought on when his beloved Magic play the Bucks on Tuesday night.
Iowa has a few fans of the Bucks, but Belton is a fan of the Bucs — the NFL team with Tom Brady — not the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He heard about the team with a “K” after its enchanted NBA Finals run in 2021. Even on his home turf, he’s bracing for that again.
“They were saying (the NBA’s Bucks) were the better Bucks,” Belton said Tuesday, hours before the game. “I will probably be at the wrong end of that rivalry today.”
He’ll at least have the hat and hoodie, though, and a week near home before playing in the Citrus Bowl.
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