JOHNSTON – Jake Gervase remembers it well.
Then a wide-eyed sixth grader, he soaked up everything Pat Angerer and Tim Dwight had to say during the first Legends of Iowa Football Camp on a sweltering July day on the practice fields at Bettendorf High School.
“I remember it was so cool going through drills with them and getting a chance to actually meet them,’’ Gervase recalled Saturday. “Those are a couple of guys who stuck out. I remember Pat specifically. It was a good time.’’
Now preparing for his senior season in the Iowa secondary, Gervase joined other Hawkeyes seniors and a handful of underclassmen in working with around 400 kids who took part in free football clinic hosted by Iowa on the artificial turf at the Johnston Middle School.
Split into two sessions, young players in grades one through eight from as far away as Bettendorf took part.
They ran through a rapid-fire session of drills, charging into a tackling dummy held up by Matt Nelson, lunging through a rolling tire before it reached Brandon Snyder or taking a handoff from Austin Kelly.
Putting together the camp was a group project for Iowa’s senior football players, an opportunity to give something back and a chance to work toward community service expectations that go along with being a student-athlete at the collegiate level.
“These are the kids who are out there on Saturdays rooting us on and it’s good to have a chance to come out and have some fun with them and maybe make their day,’’ junior defensive Michael Ojemudia said. “I know this. They’ve made my day. I remember being in their shoes and to be part of something like this, it’s special.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Hawkeye players participate in community service activities annually from January through August, working on many projects around the Iowa City area.
Players are rewarded points for participation and community service is one component in the Hawkeye Challenge, a competitive summertime program which rewards players for meeting goals in the weight room and in other aspects of training.
“We’re competitors and we do like to out-do each other in everything, including the time we put into community service projects,’’ Nelson said. “It’s a friendly competition, but guys do take it seriously.’’
Hawkeye seniors have traditionally organized a project that took Iowa players to Camp Courageous in Jones County recent years, hosting activities at the year-round respite care and recreational facility for individuals of all ages with disabilities.
Recently, that outing has moved to the Iowa campus and football players still volunteer their time, leaving an opening for a new “senior project.’’
The decision not to host a spring practice in the Des Moines area this year created an opportunity for the Hawkeyes to bring a camp to central Iowa for the first time.
NCAA rules preclude it from being held on a high school facility, but the artificial turf at Johnston Middle School provided ample space for Iowa to host the camp and acknowledge fans from central and western Iowa.
“This is a little payback for the people who travel five or six hours across the state to get to Kinnick on seven Saturdays in the fall,’’ Ferentz said. “This seemed like a good way to do it. We’re reaching young people and all of the kids have parents, too. It’s a good way to interact with people of all ages and have a feel-good type day.’’
Iowa defensive lineman Sam Brincks said it played out that way.
“It was a lot of fun,’’ the senior from Carroll, Iowa, said. “I grew up wanting to be an Iowa football player and having the chance to meet guys on the team when I was a little kid would have meant so much to me. It was great for us to come out and spend some time with them.’’
When each session of the camp ended, participants had a chance to ask Ferentz and the Hawkeye players questions.
Ferentz was asked how Iowa planned stop Penn State this season.
“I don’t know if he thought it was going to be easy since (running back Saquon) Barkley isn’t there or what. I wish it was that easy,’’ said Ferentz, who was also asked how many Super Bowls the Hawkeyes have played in.
“We’ve got a little educating to do on that one.’’
BACK IN BLACK (FRIDAY): Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday he expects the football series between the Hawkeyes and Nebraska to return to Black Friday following a two-year hiatus during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Iowa will end the Big Ten season with games against Wisconsin those two years, ending a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition between the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers which began when Nebraska entered the Big Ten.
“I personally think it’s a great thing and we appreciated being invited to the party,’’ Ferentz said. “To me, it just makes sense. … I think after that (two years), I think we’re back together and I think it’s maybe a long-term thing. But, I thought the last one was long term, too. We saw how that turned out.’’
READY TO GO: Iowa defensive lineman Matt Nelson, sidelined throughout spring practices after undergoing shoulder surgery, expects to be at full speed when Iowa begins summer work in June.
“I feel good,’’ Nelson said. “I’m ready to get back out there.’’
ON THE MEND: Defensive end Parker Hesse was helping work drills Saturday although he still has a boot on his right foot and is walking with the help of crutches after suffering a foot injury during the final week of spring practices.
Ferentz said the Hesse is expected to be on the practice field next month.
THE NEXT LEVEL: Drafted or not, Ferentz said he appreciates the effort former Hawkeyes are putting into getting a chance to take part in some form of NFL camp.
“To me, that’s kind of what your 20s are for. Most of us don’t know what we’re doing then anyway and at some point you turn toward your life’s work, but all of those guys have really good opportunities right now,’’ Ferentz said.