IOWA CITY, Iowa - Tyrone Tracy was glad to see us on Tuesday.
The Iowa wide receiver has been speaking to us for the last year, but on Zoom.
“It was cool,” Tracy said. “But I’d rather do face-to-face.”
Selected Hawkeyes and coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media in person, and without masks, for the first summer availability on Tuesday.
It’s a return to normality, and everyone seemed to appreciate it.
“I think probably all of us in the country have an appreciation for being able to walk outdoors without masks on, or walk into a building without a mask,” Ferentz said.
Almost every interaction between the Hawkeyes and the media since the pandemic began was conducted via video conferencing on Zoom — there were a few in-person press conferences last summer and early fall with social distancing and mask-wearing. The standards were relaxed a bit after the second open spring practice — interactions were face-to-face, but media members still had to wear masks.
It felt like a normal routine on Tuesday, and for the Hawkeyes, it has felt like a normal routine inside their building.
“Oh yeah, it feels back to normal,” wide receiver Nico Ragaini said. “Which is what we want.”
Players and staff who are vaccinated don’t have to wear masks, and aren’t subject to testing, contact tracing, etc., all of the things they had to deal with during the abbreviated 2020 season that was on, off, and then on again.
“To me, there’s a lot of incentive for getting the vaccinations,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz said he is fully vaccinated — “Me, personally, it seemed like the right thing to do. That’s my personal feeling,” he said — but it isn’t something the coach has required of his team.
“I’m not sure I can, and I’m not sure I would if I could,” he said. “Everybody’s got to make their own choice. I know there’s a lot of factual information, and a lot of non-factual information too.”
Last season, Ragaini said, was a lesson. The Hawkeyes got their schedule — only Big Ten games — in July, then had everything taken away when a week later the conference decided to postpone the season. A few weeks later, as the sport went on in other conferences, the Big Ten changed its mind.
“Now, we know the season can be taken away from us in one second, so we have to take advantage of every single opportunity we have,” Ragaini said.
Iowa lost its first two games of the season, then won its last six.
“We basically went straight into games,” Tracy said. “All the reps, all the chemistry, was gone. We had to build that. I feel like from here on, if we can keep moving, we’ll keep getting better.”
Games were played in front of stadiums that were almost completely empty — family members were allowed to attend.
“It was a little weird out there playing just in front of our parents,” Ragaini said. “It was kind of like a practice, the way the atmosphere was.”
“One of the strangest sensations was pulling in for that first game and there’s nobody on the sidewalks,” Ferentz said. “It looked like a science fiction movie.”
The back-to-normal will include a full Kinnick Stadium, and full stadiums around the league.
“I know we’ll appreciate getting into a stadium with real energy, human energy,” Ferentz said.
“We know that once the first game happens, and this place is rocking, we’re all excited for it,” Ragaini said. “We can’t wait.”
It’s an appreciation for the normal that is going on all around college football.
“We all had those challenges last year,” Ferentz said. “Now we have all of the same opportunities this year. With that said, the challenge is how you work. So how do we work?”
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