Aug. 18, 2007
IOWA CITY — Time flies when you’re having fun.
That was the motto Saturday at the University of Iowa’s annual Kid’s Day football practice at Kinnick Stadium. The 8,000 fans who poured into Iowa City to watch their heroes of the fall received much more than their money’s worth. Forget the fact that there is complimentary admission to the event, but Head Coach Kirk Ferentz gave the boisterous audience somewhat of an encore by letting the Hawkeyes frolic on a beautiful afternoon for an extra 20 minutes. The bonus ticks of the clock gave the UI faithful an opportunity for one of their loudest ovations of the day. For a punter.
“It seemed like the biggest roar from the crowd came from a punt,” Ferentz joked to a cluster of media after the event. “We’re a team that has a lot of work to do. We’re not where we want to be and we’ll make some decisions this week.”
A high, booming boot from the foot of freshman Ryan Donahue was the reason for the loud and extended round of applause from the fans seated in the south and west stands. For them, seeing their punter on the field is never a good thing. But if he has to be there, you couldn’t have asked for a much better kick than the one Donahue offered.
On this day, thousands of people, most clad in black and gold, made the journey from places like Webster City, Washington, Vinton, Mount Vernon and even Iowa City to catch a glimpse of the team SI.com called the “sleeper” of the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes put on an admirable performance, even though this was their 16th practice of the preseason, a time when exhaustion, sore muscles and lack of focus tend to worm their way into camp.
The Hawkeyes appeared in a jovial mood, as did their fans.
“Herky, I love you!” one fan hollered as the famed UI mascot made the rounds in the stands and on the sideline. Cries of “Albert” and “Jake” also filled the air.
There were ooh’s, woah’s, clapping and yelling. There were reporters, photographers and even a Who’s Who of Hawkeye Legends on hand — David Hudson, Marshall Cotton, Phil Seuss, Robert Smith and Norm Granger. Actually, the latter two — Smith and Granger — were officials.
Did anyone mention that this was a practice session? The attendance and ambiance only goes to reiterate the fact that Hawkeye fans are among the greatest and most supportive in the nation.
“It’s always a good feeling to have these fans behind us and supporting us. We look forward to putting a good team out on the field for them in a couple weeks.”
UI QB Jake Christensen
“It would be like this every practice if it was allowed,” an assistant coach said.
“I love it, man,” said sophomore receiving sensation Dominique Douglas. “It gets you motivated because these are the same people who come out on Saturday and get your adrenaline going.”
“We even had some bad weather and they still came out,” said sophomore quarterback Jake Christensen, referring to a thunderstorm that moved through the area earlier in the morning. “It’s always a good feeling to have these fans behind us and supporting us. We look forward to putting a good team out on the field for them in a couple weeks.”
“These people don’t have to be here,” said Kenny Iwebema, senior defensive end. “They could be at home doing whatever they want to do. They come here to watch us and it’s an honor to play for them. We have fun out here.”
A fun day seemed to be had by all. The coaches coached, the players were playful and the fans were a bit more fanatical. This was a genuine dress rehearsal for the season-opener on Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois.
“Up and down, in and out, let’s go,” one coach hollered.
“Get rid of the ball. Hurry up, hurry up,” persuaded another.
“Keep your hips down. Bend your knees,” encouraged a third coach.
And as the morning faded into the afternoon, the stands remained packed with support. The Hawkeyes put on a show worth staying for — Derrell Johnson-Koulianos sprinting toward the end zone with a touchdown reception, Cedric Everson intercepting a fourth-down pass during a two-minute drill, Troy Johnson making a bone-crushing hit that jarred the ball loose from an intended receiver, a solid tackle by Jordan Bernstine, a 47-yard field goal by Austin Signor and the list goes on and on.
And when it was over, fans lined the railing of historic Kinnick Stadium, Sharpie pens in one hand and souvenirs in the other. After all, this was a day for the kids and a day for the fans. As for the players? Coach Ferentz reminded them that there was still a lot of work to be done with the official opening kickoff two weeks away.
“We need to show up ready to go,” he said during a post-practice gathering.
As for added incentive to stay focused for the next 13 practices? Well, look no further than the 8,000 reasons sitting this afternoon in the Kinnick stands.
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