Ferentz, Hawkeyes finding flow different in training

IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz stood at the podium, an empty Kinnick Stadium behind him.
Get used to it.
When Ferentz and the Iowa football team have their home opener on Oct. 31 against Northwestern, fans  — other than the families of the players — won’t be allowed into the stadium.
Such is life during the COVID-19 pandemic, such is life during a Big Ten season that was, then wasn’t, then is going to be played in the fall.
Nine games in October, November and December look like a decent compromise to whatever the conference was planning after postponing its fall season back in August.
And, don’t get Ferentz wrong — he’s glad that the Hawkeyes and the rest of the conference will be playing.
But the internal football clock inside the coach is all fouled up these days.
The Hawkeyes are currently in training camp to get ready for the Oct. 24 season opener at Purdue. But training camps are supposed to be held in steamy August, not comfortable October.
“The psychology of it is very strange,” Ferentz said during Thursday’s press conference to wrap up a week of media availability. “To be out there and really not face any heat challenges, it’s a little bit weird to see the leaves changing colors and wearing sweatshirts and long pants at times, that’s been a little different.”
It was back on August 11 when the Big Ten, full of medical concerns about the COVID-19 virus, decided to shut down the fall season and hope things would be better when the calendar flipped from this nightmare of 2020 to the who-knows-what of 2021.
The PAC-12 and assorted other smaller conferences followed the Big Ten’s lead, but the SEC, Big 12, and ACC pressed on. By the time September arrived, there was football and everyone in the Big Ten was wondering why their stadiums were empty and their fields were quiet.
“There’s a lot of things that make you really appreciate being able to do what you love doing. And this has been maybe as big of an illustration,” Ferentz said. “And quite frankly, whenever it was, August 11th, it didn’t look like we were going to have an opportunity to play this fall. Then you put your sights on what’s the next best alternative. And at that point it looked like January. Late December or January. So you reset your sights on that a little bit, but this was welcome news certainly and it’s just good to be back kind of in a flow, even though it’s a different flow. But we’re back with our players, that’s the most important thing, we’re back working together and that’s what we all love doing.”
The decision to play later in the fall was made because of more reliable testing for the virus and better protocols. Ferentz’s clock was off, but so were the clocks of his players, who let down their guard thinking there would be no football for a while.
“When the season got pushed or punted, that clearly affected our football team,” Ferentz said. “It was reflected in COVID numbers everywhere in our state, particularly two counties, with kids coming to campus, but I think our guys, their attitude changed. There was really nothing to focus on.
“So to that point you have guys coming out of quarantine all those kind of things and really hard to quantify where we were at. So we really went slow at the start. We really tried to be as cautious as we possibly could, as smart as we possibly could, trying to avoid any injuries that would be avoidable in a normal season. But I do feel like we’re starting to catch up right now, I think our work capacity is a little closer to what you would hope for a college football team. And I think our guys’ attitudes have been good all the way through it.”
It’s not going to be an easy season. It has to be a deep roster, because anyone could catch the virus. Whole position groups could be in quarantine if players aren’t careful.
The players undergo daily testing — linebacker Nick Niemann called the tests “brain ticklers” — and have to go through the daily protocols to get into Iowa’s football building. Their classes are mostly done remotely, which bring different challenges.
But there’s a season to be played, even if the stadiums are going to be empty.
“We’ve got to do that work, I don’t know that we’re going to get enough before we start playing,” Ferentz said. “But that’s the way it is, that’s the cards that got dealt to us and we’ll just try to do our best to get ready.”
John Bohnenkamp is an award winning sports writer and a guest contributor to the Pen City Current

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