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INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz said that not having to do an uncomfortable nose-swab PCR test was enough to convince him to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
But he won’t sway his athletes either way, only take note of who will be on the “warning list,” at possible risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“It’s probably close to, not quite 70 percent right now,” Ferentz said Friday at Big Ten media days when asked how much of his team was vaccinated. “It’s a healthy number, but it’s not unanimous. We’re not mandating anything. What we've tried to do is just articulate to our guys what the rules are.”
Ferentz expressed he is not yet sure what the game-day protocols are for players who aren’t vaccinated, but expects there will be regular testing at least once a week.
Iowa received five first-place votes and was picked No. 2 in the Big Ten West in a preseason Big Ten media poll from Cleveland.com, with Wisconsin receiving 29 first-place votes at No. 1 and Northwestern ranked No. 3.
Northwestern’s vaccination rate, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald, is somewhere between 90-95%, while Wisconsin’s hovers around 85%. As it stands now, Ferentz said, a player who contracts the virus is out for at least 10 days. Iowa had a few players sit out of practice this June for contracting the virus.
“That's where the reality of it all set in for them,” Ferentz said. “If we were playing Saturday, you're not playing. So, I think that's something a lot of our players are probably weighing right now: just how valuable these opportunities are.”
Iowa’s first opponent, Indiana, is 90% vaccinated. According to the IndyStar, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm expects 90% of his team to be vaccinated by the end of July while Illinois head coach Bret Bielema expects all of his players to be vaccinated by Aug. 1. Maryland also has a vaccination rate about 90%.
Recruiting an expected challenge
After Iowa hauled in 247Sports’ No. 24-ranked recruiting class in the country which featured 11 in-state commits and seven four-star athletes in 2021, the Class of 2022 is lagging behind expectations with only eight commits and a few missed targets at the tight end position. Tight end targets Micah Riley-Ducker commited to Auburn, while Andrew Keller committed to Iowa State and Tommy McIntosh picked Wisconsin.
“The first weekend of June, a guy that we had interest in a developmental player, more of a Chauncey Golston-type guy, not a five-star guy and he visited a school and committed randomly, and it really surprised us,” Ferentz said. “One observation is I think a lot of guys committed before they had to. The other aspect was waiting until the end (for official visit weekend), you may not get a guy on campus and we saw that happen.”
Iowa is also wearing a target on its back with a discrimination lawsuit court date set for 2023. Ferentz said that negative recruiting is always going to be there no matter what, and he addresses the discrimination case proactively with athletes of color.
“That's one thing we're very proactive about is the messaging,” Ferentz said. “One of the young people that committed to us as a good illustration was talking about earlier. He and his family had some concerns, they were here in early June. At the end of June, they came on a visit and committed and were very enthusiastic, but they did do their due diligence like they should.”
While the class so far isn’t as big as expected, Ferentz reminded media of former players like Josey Jewell, George Kittle, Anthony Hitchens and Jonathan Babineaux, who committed to Iowa late in the recruiting process.
But what’s hurt Iowa is not getting athletes on campus in time and as quickly as possible, especially being a state with a small population.
“We had a group of 16 prospects on campus this June,” Ferentz said. “A couple were good players, and good people, but it just didn't seem like maybe they were going to be a good fit in our program. I can't remember that ever happening like that. That's a result of us not knowing people the way we knew them or would normally know him during a normal recruiting cycle.”
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