By RICK BROWN
JOHNSTON, Iowa — Ten-year-old Jack Johnson, wearing receiving gloves and a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt, made a hesitation move that defied his age and sprinted pass his surprised defender for an easy catch.
University of Iowa senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia smiled in wonder and clapped his hands.
“You can see how kids take in things you wouldn’t think they would,” said Ojemudia, one of 19 Hawkeye football players who took part in the second annual Iowa Football Youth Camp at Johnston Middle School Saturday. “That’s a pretty exciting thing to see.”
Four hundred youngsters from five states — boys and girls — took part in the camp that was free but required a registration. All 400 spots were gone in two hours. It was proof positive of the power of the Iowa football jersey.
“Having this jersey on is a big influence on people,” said Ojemudia, clad in his No. 11 home uniform. “During the season, the spring and the summer, we do a lot of work. It gets tiring sometimes, but events like these can be a relief. It shows that people actually look up to you and your hard work has paid off.”
Kirk Ferentz, entering his 21st season as Iowa’s head football coach, joined 18 senior players and freshman linebacker Dillon Doyle for the camp.
“We certainly hope the (jersey) means something to people,” Ferentz said. “Guys that rise to the senior class, they have done the hard work, they have taken care of things academically and socially, and have stuck it out football-wise. Hopefully they really represent our program.”
Events like the one Saturday are a powerful and inspiration-rich opportunity to give back to the next generation.
“Hopefully that is impacting kids across the state,” Ferentz said. “It’s no different than what Megan (Gustafson) did with the young ladies who play basketball. Those are really positive things.”
The setting is laid-back and relaxing, which rarely defines a college football player’s time on the field. Players interacted with kids, generating smiles all around.
“A little tip you give can go a long ways with these kids,” Ojemudia said.
Nate Stanley, entering his third season as Iowa’s starting quarterback, said Saturday served two purposes.
“It means a lot to them,” Stanley said. “But it means a lot to us, too, to give back to the kids who come and support us every weekend.”
Like Ojemudia, Stanley saw things Saturday he didn’t expect to see.
“Some kids were taking drops as they were throwing the ball,” Stanley said. “We didn’t mention anything about that. They did it on their own, which is kind of cool to see.”
Spend any time around linebacker Amani Jones, and you usually see a smile on his face. Saturday was no exception.
“The highlight of the day for me was just seeing kids smile,” Jones said.
Jones was running a tackling drill, and some kids started to go headfirst into the tackling dummy that served as a ball carrier.
“I said, ‘What are you guys doing?'” Jones said. “They were laughing like it was funny. I said, ‘No, it’s not the right way to tackle.’ Two sessions before that, three or four of them didn’t get their turn. So one ran up and jumped on the bag. Then everyone jumped on it and started beating up the bag. It made my day.”
Jones, who is from Chicago, said it took him a few years to realize what the Iowa Way represented, and what it means to wear an Iowa uniform in this state. He knows now.
“This jersey is powerful,” Jones said.
When defensive lineman Cedrick Lattimore was growing up in Detroit, he attended several basketball camps run by Michigan State and Michigan players. He didn’t have access to football camps like the one he took part in Saturday.
“Running the kids through some of the drills we do, and seeing how happy they are to do it, that’s the best thing,” Lattimore said.
The time he invested in a bus trip to Johnston and back was paid back in full by lots of smiles.
“It makes me smile when I see somebody else happy,” Lattimore said. “So when I can make somebody else’s day, that day is great.”