IOWA CITY, Iowa — When the clock ticks inside 10 minutes to kickoff, Iowa football players walk down an angled tunnel from their locker room toward the edge of Kinnick Stadium.`
The Hawkeyes hear the opening riffs to AC/DC’s Back in Black before they reach the playing surface to Metallica’s Enter Sandman. The sequence fires up both the players and the fans.
But when they’re getting dressed in the team hotel or riding the team bus, heavy metal rarely enters their playlist or Spotify settings.
“I usually don’t like to get too hyped before the game because it’s waste of energy to me,” said unanimous All-American cornerback Josh Jackson. “I just like to just relax on the bus. I’ll listen to some smooth stuff like Frank Sinatra, Donny Hathaway. Guys like that. Just get my mood down. Just be focused. When I get in the stadium, I’ll listen to some hip-hop and get my tempo up a little bit.”
Fellow cornerback Manny Rugamba said he feels the same way.
“I don’t like to get too hyped before the game,” Rugamba said. “I really like some old-school music. I’ve actually listened to Boyz II Men before the game. I listen to Aretha Franklin before the game. Bill Withers before the game. Whitney Houston. I like that before the game and Sam Cooke.
“I think music was better back then. I try to listen to a few calm things before the game.”
Big band sounds and R&B are just one sampling of the team’s musical preferences as the players approach kickoff. Senior linebackers Ben Niemann and Bo Bower room together the night before games. When they’re in their hotel room, it’s usually a mix of slower country-music tunes.
“You definitely don’t want to get too amped up beforehand as you work up to the game,” Niemann said. “Obviously you’re going to get excited. You’re going to have that adrenaline because you’re playing the game you love in front of 70,000 people so it’s an exciting thing. You don’t want to get too amped too early. You don’t want to drain your energy.”
As the hours before kickoff dwindle to minutes, the players’ playlists change with the time. Many of the soothing songs are replaced with those with a pulsating beat. For Rugamba, he listens to the music in their pregame hype videos. Jackson’s go-to song before kickoff is Frat Rules by A$AP Rocky. But that song doesn’t come up in the hotel room or on the bus.
“That just gets your mind going a thousand miles an hour,” Jackson said. “I like to think about plays and formations I can expect in a game.”
Defensive end Parker Hesse prefers a bigger variety to his daily playlist than some of his teammates. He usually finds a song that shapes his mindset for the whole week, not just for game day. Johnny Cash’s Ain’t No Grave and God’s Gonna Cut You Down struck the right chord during Penn State prep. Hesse and fellow defensive end Sam Brincks also took a liking to the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack.
“It’s a really wide mix,” Hesse said. “There’s a mix of songs that if I’m feeling that I need to mellow out a little bit or I need to pick it up a little bit. Just a mix of songs in there that I can go to.
“It just kind of changes. Sometimes the opponent, just the attitude of how we are going into game.”
So when the players charge from Kinnick’s southwest corner across the field to the north end zone, they like Enter Sandman just as much as the fans. Mostly because it’s the first time they’ve heard it on game day.