IOWA CITY, Iowa — One giant crane obstructs most Iowa fans’ view of the water tower that overlooks Kinnick Stadium’s northeast corner.
The ongoing north end zone construction with a concrete wall lining the playing surface prevented a real spring game Friday night. The players used about 60 yards of AstroTurf for a final scrimmage and there was no reason to look to the north. Until … the equivalent of the Cubs winning the World Series sent the 9,300 who scattered in the 89-year-old stadium into a jaw-dropping frenzy.
At the first-quarter intermission, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta announced there will be a TigerHawk logo on the water tower. Coupled with placing the TigerHawk at the 50-yard line last fall, this is the Iowa fans’ equivalent to finding the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant. Painting will start in June with an August completion. If the athletic department could find a way to seat students closer to the floor at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, there would be nothing that fans could complain about … until the first punt this fall.
“I swear, I didn’t know it was going on the water tower,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think it’s great.”
That news carried the fans for a few moments, then the attention turned back to the field. In a better-than-usual scrimmage in which offense and defense competed at a high level, there was one position group that dominated the action. Safeties Amani Hooker and Jake Gervase tipped balls, intercepted passes and forced fumbles.
Gervase, a senior, intercepted 3 passes a year ago and hauled in another on Friday night. He was all over the place in run support. He also scoffed when a reporter suggested he was a spring game hall of fame performer.
“You’re like the third person who said that,” Gervase said. “Anytime you’re under the lights at Kinnick [Stadium], it’s a special thing. I thought we came out here, executed the game plan, got a couple turnovers, which we focus on as a defense, and it was a solid way to end spring ball.”
Gervase picked off Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley when Hooker tipped the ball and it caromed straight to Gervase. Hooker had his interception a few plays earlier off Stanley as well. Hooker also forced sure-handed tight end T.J. Hockenson to fumble with a good strip.
“Hooker made a really nice play on the interception,” Ferentz said. “And just from where I was standing, it was kind of funny, you could see him sizing it up that they haven’t covered that route all spring. Not that we’ve thrown it a lot, but he spotted it right off the bat and was just kind of laying in the weeds on that one. I think that shows that he’s moving forward a little bit, too, and it’s what you hope from experienced players.”
Last year, Hooker (6-foot, 210 pounds) intercepted 2 passes, including a pick-6 on the game’s first play against Ohio State. He ran for a first down on a fake punt and recorded 13 tackles in his first career start against Penn State. Perhaps most impressively, Hooker piled up 12 tackles in a Pinstripe Bowl victory, including 2 touchdown-saving stops.
Along with his safety duties, Hooker also worked as a punt returner Friday.
“He’s really athletic,” said Gervase (6-1, 212). “He’s going to be a special player. I think he’s trying to increase his value with fielding those punts if he can help out the team in any way that he can. That’s something he’s trying to do, so he could be a weapon on special teams as well.”
Gervase was inconsistent last year. He became the starting free safety when Brandon Snyder was out with a torn ACL. Gervase then lost his job during Iowa’s third game but earned it back midway through the season. He intercepted 3 passes and his final pick led to a field goal in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“Jake has really done a nice job,” Ferentz said. “I mentioned leadership. He’s been a guy that’s taken a very active role, and probably did start a year ago — I don’t know if it was this night or whatever, a year ago [Friday] was really kind of the first step for him. Spring games aren’t critical certainly, but they’re good indicators sometimes of what guys are doing, tandeming him up with Hooker.”
Putting the TigerHawk on the water tower became the talking point of fans throughout Hawkeyeland on Friday night. But the most important announcement came from Iowa’s safeties, which showed they’re more than just the back line of defense. They’re front-line players.