JOHNSTON, Iowa - Part of being an Iowa football player is giving back to the community, and that explains why Kirk Ferentz and his senior players were in Johnston on Saturday.
The Iowa football team held its second annual youth football camp at Johnston Middle School, and judging from the number of kids who participated, and from their excitement, it was a success.
The youth camp is a way for Iowa to extend its brand into central Iowa, and a way to support kids at the same time.
Ferentz also uses the camp as a chance to honor his seniors by having them represent the team exclusively as part of the annual senior project.
"It's a fun totally relaxed everybody wins today kind of situation," Ferentz said. "I think our guys really enjoy it. We've always had a senior project for our senior class. So this is a nice initiative, kind of care-free day for them. Get on the bus and shoot over here and have a nice couple hours with the young kids and then go back, and they've still got most of the day in front of them."
Iowa had recently started a spring tradition of practicing once at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, but Ferentz now seems to prefer having the youth camp in Johnston.
Either way, the main purpose is to gain recognition and say thanks to the fans in central Iowa.
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and defensive end Amani Jones were among the seniors who participated in the camp on Saturday.
Jones seemed to really enjoy interacting with the kids and promoting the Hawkeye spirit.
"I really didn't get to know the Iowa way and the little things that the Iowa players do until maybe my sophomore year spring," said Jones, a native of Chicago. "I really started to see how things are working around here.
"This jersey is powerful, actually. I don't know what it is, but once you put on the jersey, you just get a different feel."
Stanley said the kids can be inspired by what the Iowa players have accomplished.
"It's awesome to be able to give back to the kids," Stanley said. "They come and support us every single weekend. The little things that we can do to give back, that's awesome that we can do that for them."
Iowa finished spring practice on April 26th and now the players begin the important spring and summer conditioning phase under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
Saturday's camp was a chance for the Iowa players to have fun in a relaxed atmosphere, although, it was hardly a relaxed atmosphere with a bunch of screaming kids participating in different drills.
The senior class will play a key role both on and off the field next season, and Saturday's camp was sort of bonding experience for them.
Ferentz also addressed the recent addition of Jay Niemann to the Iowa coaching staff. Niemann grew up in Iowa and is the father of current Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann and former Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann, who now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
"We took some time and just kind of talked about some possibilities and then really kind of zeroed in on a couple people and just couldn't be happier with Jay accepting the position," Ferentz said. "I think he is going to be a tremendous addition to our defensive staff. He's got vast experience at a lot of different levels and has had a lot of success."