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By DARREN MILLER
TAMPA, Fla. — It’s a good thing passing the Falcon’s Fury test at Busch Gardens isn’t a prerequisite to joining the University of Iowa football team. If so, the Hawkeyes would be devoid of some of their biggest stars.
Players and staff from 2017 Outback Bowl opponents Iowa and Florida spent Wednesday afternoon in Busch Gardens. Six Hawkeyes — seniors LeShun Daniels, Jr., Jaleel Johnson, and Desmond King, junior Miles Taylor, sophomore Matt Nelson and freshman Anthony Nelson — were selected to ride Falcon’s Fury.
There was a hitch. Both Nelsons are too tall to go on the ride that had a height limit of 77 inches (6-foot-5). Matt Nelson is 6-8 and Anthony Nelson is 6-7.
“I was excited to go on the ride, so I’m a little disappointed,” said Anthony Nelson. “But I think it will be fun to see reactions from LeShun and Desmond over here safe on the ground while they go up a couple hundred feet.”
For Johnson and Taylor, riding the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America was not their cup of tea. Riders on Falcon’s Fury are lifted to the top of the 335-foot tower before plunging straight down at 60 miles per hour while pivoting 90 degrees in midair.
“Roller coaster, yes, but that drop? No, I couldn’t do the drop,” said the 6-4, 310-pound Johnson, “I’m terrified of heights. Falcon’s Fury…can’t do it.”
Taylor told teammates he was too short to get on Falcon’s Fury. He was fibbing. At 5-11, Taylor more than met the minimum requirement of 54 inches (4-8).
“He can’t handle a ride, that’s crazy,” Daniels said. “Miles, you can tackle running backs 220 pounds and above, but you can’t go on this ride?”
Taylor was sticking to his self-concocted excuse.
“I don’t fit the height limit,” he said.
That left Daniels and King as the lone Hawkeyes to tackle the challenge of Falcon’s Fury. King says he was so high in the air he could see downtown Tampa and the South Florida football stadium.
“We made it back down to earth. That’s all that matters,” King said.
Daniels says nothing can stop him now that he has survived Falcon’s Fury.
“If I can go on that ride I can do anything now,” he said. “My heart’s still going kind of crazy.”
While the Nelsons were too tall for the thrill ride, they had an advantage when it came to feeding Teesa, Becca, and Cupid — three reticulated giraffe. The Hawkeyes took turns offering lettuce and a special gooey treat to the giraffes.
“It was a new experience. I’ve fed a cat before, but never a giraffe,” Johnson said. “It was new and I enjoyed it. Their tongues are like 100 feet long. Cupid was the one that liked me the most, go figure, right?”
On the 20-minute roundtrip truck ride to feed giraffe, the players and media drove past nyala antelope, addax, zebra, and ostrich.
“It gives us time to enjoy Tampa. We don’t get to see stuff like this every day,” Johnson said. “Coming out here getting on rides and feeding giraffes gives us time away from the business part of the trip.”
Iowa returns to the practice field Thursday morning at the University of Tampa. The 2017 Outback Bowl will be Jan. 2 at noon (CT) inside Raymond James Stadium.