116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — You can try hiding during the 'Shirt Game' game. Keep in mind, there are maybe 20-plus Iowa Hawkeyes darting and wrestling in a 20-yard space on the outdoor practice field.
The concept is easy: You tuck your T-shirt into your shorts and do whatever it takes to be the last one in the circle with T-shirt intact.
'You can always sit in the corner and wait for everyone else to get out first,' senior linebacker Josey Jewell said. 'It's competitive and there's going to be a competitive nature behind it. It's one-on-one and everyone is watching. It's fun.'
Iowa's summer conditioning program is five workouts a week for seven weeks (35 workouts). The one-on-one competitive drills begin in Week 3 and last through the end. Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle uses around 20 different one-on-one competitive drills during the seven weeks.
'We try to compete every single day,' Doyle said last summer. 'One day it might be a change of direction drill, one day it might be a linear drill. One day it might be a combo of those two. One day it might be a resistance drill, but we try to compete every single day.'
What better way to compete than head-to-head feats of strength. That brings 'Shirt Game' and 'Tug O' War' into the conversation. In the Tug O' War, players are connected via harnesses and then it's 'ready, set, go' and may the best man win.
'Winning' in this case is pulling the other guy where he doesn't want to go. Pairings for this are made on different strength and speed measurements.
In his first rounds doing Tug O' War, junior defensive end Parker Hesse, who switched to that position from linebacker, was tied in with former Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, a fourth-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL draft.
'For me, being a lighter guy (257 pounds), I don't want it to turn into a straight strength game,' Hesse said. 'I want to get them moving side to side. It's good for you. Even going against someone as athletic and powerful as (Johnson), you have to try to stand up and compete with them. That's great for us.'
You've picked up on the fact that every inch during a fall football Saturday is contested. That's the idea behind the Last Man and Tug O' War.
'Anytime you can compete in a competitive environment and have guys compete against one another in front of their teammates,' Doyle said, 'it brings out the best in people. That's what we try to do.'
The one-on-ones are part of the Hawkeye Challenge. They take place before 'skills and drills,' which is speed work and conditioning along with 7-on-7 drills and blocking drills the O-line and D-line do.
And, yes, they do get chippy. Here's O-lineman Sean Welsh on the Shirt game.
'You're in an environment with a lot of super-competitive guys,' he said. 'It's hard not to have that happen. Guys get bucked out. There's a perimeter. If you step out, you're out. You can either push a guy out or yank their shirt off. Some of the not-fast guys like me have to rely on throwing guys out sometimes.'
Offensive tackle Ike Boettger is 6-foot-6, 307 pounds and he's an athlete. He switched to tackle from tight end and is going into his third season as a starter. He couldn't remember the last time he lost a Tug O' War and has won the Shirt game.
'You can't take too many chances early, you just have to sit back and grind it out,' Boettger said with a laugh. 'You have to wait and see who runs into the middle. We have fun doing all of this stuff.'
Other head-to-head competitions include sled sprints and timed prowler pushes. Of course, those are posted for all to see.
Height and arm length were mentioned as huge advantages in the Shirt game. The team is broken into three groups for this — O-line and D-line, semiskilled (linebackers, fullbacks and tight ends) and skilled.
'Sam Brincks (a junior DE) is good at it,' Hesse said. 'Anthony and Matt Nelson are good at it with their wingspans. The Paulsens (Levi and Landan, both offensive linemen) are pretty good at it. I think they've won a time or two, maybe more.'
Jewell remembered his first Tug O' War drills when he arrived at Iowa. He found himself paired with tight end Ray Hamilton, an upperclassman at tight end. Last summer, he paired off with linebacker Amani Jones.
'He's a tough kid,' Jewell said. 'It's fun. It's a time to compete and a time to get better.'
Jewell also has won the Shirt game a time or two in the past. 'Not to gloat or anything,' Jewell said. 'Not as many times as other people. Some other guys, the lengthy guys, have won that game multiple times.'
You won't see these drills on the Big Ten Network, even though — at this point in the summer, with college football still around 80 days away, you'd probably pay-per-view the Shirt game — but they are part of what make college football endlessly fascinating.
'We have the Hawkeye Championship thing set up with points and the guys take a lot of pride in that,' Hesse said. 'Coach Doyle and (head) Coach (Kirk) Ferentz always say we have our best teams when guys take pride in the Hawkeye Championship and the out-of-season. If you're blowing that off, then football in general probably doesn't mean a whole lot to you.'
Remember, these are healthy college football players. Everything is a competition. When the T-shirts are tucked in, that's like kickoff at Kinnick Stadium.
'After the workout, maybe we laugh about what happened, but for the five minutes after, it's ... It's on, it's competitive,' Hesse said.
'Guys want to win,' Doyle said. 'They want to show improvement. In a program like Iowa that has had so much success with unheralded recruits kind of rising to the top, when we create a competitive environment in offseason strength and conditioning, you develop a platform that allows the Boone Myers and Cole Crostons and Bo Bowers of the world to step in and climb their way to the top.
'If we didn't have that, if we just had incumbents and passed out positions based on recruiting, we wouldn't have that. We can't do that here. We have to create competition to be who we are.'
l Comments: (319) 398-8256; email@example.com