Iowa Football

Players insist Iowa football program has changed, except for the 'smart, tough and physical' part

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz congratulates Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) after a touchdown duri
Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz congratulates Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) after a touchdown during the first half of 2019 Holiday Bowl against the USC Trojans at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2000. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Things are different, yet they also are the same.

That’s what Iowa football players said during a nearly two-hour Zoom conference with reporters Tuesday afternoon that is substituting as Hawkeyes media day.

Iowa made available 11 offensive players for questions and will make 11 defensive players available Wednesday afternoon. The 22 make up the team’s Leadership Group.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz and his assistant coaches will speak to media in person Thursday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.

This summer was chaotic for the program, and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Allegations of racial disparity and mistreatment were brought forth from many current and former players, leading to an independent investigation and the release of longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, the center of most of the complaints, who was given a $1.1 million settlement.

He was the only coach to be released. Ferentz promised change in his program, and players said they have seen it ... except in one area.

“Iowa football will always be Iowa football,” said running back Ivory Kelly-Martin. “It’s always been a really strong program that puts all of its emphasis into being smart, tough and physical. I still think that’s our motto going into this season. I’m sure all the Hawkeyes before know how things go down here.

“Things haven’t changed, as far as having to get work done. We’re still attacking stuff in the weight room, we’re still being smart, tough and physical.”

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Interim strength and conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaite was an assistant under Doyle for 15 years.

“We’re still working hard every day (in the weight room),” said Iowa tackle Alaric Jackson. “Honestly, it’s the same to me. He’s been here since I’ve been here, so we’re not doing anything different. We’re still working hard every day.”

But other things are definitely different, players said.

They are being allowed to use Twitter and social media, for one thing. Dress codes for entering the football complex have been relaxed.

Overall communication between players and coaches has improved.

“I see a lot of excitement coming into the building every morning, every day,” said running back Mekhi Sargent. “There’s not a lot of people being sluggish or just coming in here quiet, as opposed to what it was back then. I’m just happy where we are now as a unit, in terms of coming in here and being ourselves and just playing football ... without all the extra, without walking on egg shells.”

“We’ve definitely grown as a unit,” said running back Tyler Goodson. “This situation has definitely brought us together, changed a few things in the program that has allowed us to come together as one and grow as a program.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz was specifically called out by some former players for abusive language, though Sargent and wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. definitely had his back Tuesday.

“Honestly, Coach Brian is a great man. He’s a great coach,” Sargent said. “I never had a problem with Coach Brian, never had a problem with Coach Doyle. I can’t speak for a lot of people who did have those problems. But, me, personally, I’m from a diverse location in Key West, Fla., and I’ve never really had a problem with these kind of racial disparities ... Like I said, Coach Brian is a real good coach, and he’s going to continue to be a very good coach and very supportive of all the players.”

“I respect Brian in every single way,” Tracy said. “He hasn’t done anything to me, he hasn’t said anything bad to me. So the remarks said about him were very shocking, to say the least. But we did have our personal moment where I went in and talked to him. We’re all onboard, just (moving) straight ahead.”

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Iowa opens its nine-game regular season Oct. 24 at Purdue.

“I would say all that went on in the offseason kind of branded our football team together,” Sargent said. “Because at the end of the day, we all have to go onto the field and play together. We all have to get up in the morning and train together. We all have to be in position meetings together. We’re all brothers, we’re all family here. We have a strong bond now, things are kind of moving forward in the right direction.”

“I would say we’ve made some pretty big steps, as you guys know,” Kelly-Martin said. “In house, we’re all just really trying to come together and still figuring things out. It’s a process, and it’s never going to be perfect in one day. So we still have some ways to go. But, then again, we have a big focus on football right now. While the racial disparities and everything are still a problem that we don’t want to push to the side, we also have a lot on our plate getting ready for the season.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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