Leistikow: Iowa football needs rookie help. Getting it requires June pain.

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Signage inside the Iowa Football Performance Center isn’t just for decoration. It’s imperative in establishing the identity the 2017 Hawkeyes want to possess.

One of Parker Hesse’s favorite signs this week carries a simple, two-word missive: “Today matters.”

As the junior defensive end spoke Wednesday, he counted 29 workouts remaining before fall camp begins in late July.

Today matters. Tomorrow matters.

Each of those 29 workouts matter.

A view from inside the Iowa Football Performance Center's 23,000-square-foot weight room, as Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz walks through in August 2015. Incoming freshmen will be getting used to the facility as they report to school this weekend.

“Right now is when you have to right the ship and get it going in the right way,” Hesse said, “if you want to be where you want to be in October and November."

One of the lessons Hawkeye players learned from its 2015 team book, “The Slight Edge,” was about understanding compounding interest.

As in a bank account, a bigger payoff awaits if one strong day builds off another.

A lackluster day means there's that much more ground to make up the next.

At a program like Iowa’s — where razor-thin margins separate the difference between going 7-5 and 12-0 — there’s no time to be wasted.

“We have to go 100 percent,” middle linebacker Josey Jewell said. “All the time.”

And that’s the message that program veterans — from 19th-year strength coach Chris Doyle to multi-year starters like Hesse and Jewell — will try to pass along to the large class of incoming freshmen that report this weekend.

Summer school begins Monday. It’s never been a requirement under Kirk Ferentz that freshmen report in June; Jewell, a Butkus Award finalist last season, didn’t prior to his rookie year.

Nor is it a pre-requisite for immediate playing time. Ferentz this week told the story of cornerback B.J. Lowery showing up the day before fall camp began in 2010 and playing as a true freshman.

Yet the 19th-year head coach understands that the incoming freshmen will face extra urgency at certain positions this fall. Ferentz’s Hawkeyes enter the season thin at cornerback and even thinner at wide receiver.

“It certainly helps for them to be on campus,” Ferentz said in our interview Wednesday. “And this year, I think it is of particular note, because … one thing I can predict is we’ll have young guys playing at the receiver position as well as defensive back.

"Clearly, those guys will have an opportunity to get on the field."

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Ferentz is hopeful that at least two freshmen at each position will play, if not start.

True-freshman receivers coming aboard include Max Cooper, Henry Marchese, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and the much-anticipated Brandon Smith.

True-freshman defensive backs include Dijmon Colbert, Matt Hankins, Camron Harrell, Geno Stone and Josh Turner.

A 10th incoming prospect, Georgia’s Trey Creamer, could be an option at either spot.

How much they contribute will depend on the culture that’s established and how quickly and passionately they buy into being a Hawkeye.

“New guys come in, let ‘em know our culture,” Hesse said. “We pride ourselves on tough, smart, physical football."

That's a sign they'll see in the weight room: "Tough. Smart. Physical."

But in addition to key messages, the freshmen will be met with sweat.

June is when Doyle gets you inside his 23,000-square-foot laboratory — the weight room — and begins operating.

Jewell describes the mental part of the progression as the first step.

Then comes the physical part: “Where you go past what you think you can do … as a freshman. Doyle really instills that in you. You can do more than you think you can.

“You think you only have eight reps in you, he’s going to make you do 10.”

After weight training in the summer, it’s time for running.

Lots of running.

“Not a lot of people are going to want to run, but you’ve got to run,” Jewell said. “You’ve got to get in shape. You’ve got to be at your fastest ability during this time period."

The conditioning phase of Iowa football is perhaps one of the most underrated, important parts of the process of getting onto the field.

The winter after a bowl game is when the players pack on pounds.

The summer is when they truly get used to carrying the extra weight. Being able to withstand the rigors of a 12-game regular season (which begins Sept. 2) starts now. And, by the way, temperatures are expected to be in the high-90s early next week.

Welcome to Iowa City.

All that said, players' summer training at the football complex only totals about eight or nine hours a week.

That means there's a lot of time leftover for culture-building among teammates — like hitting the bowling alley or golf course, or watching extra film.

“That’s kind of what the summer’s for,” offensive lineman Sean Welsh said. “… The more we do things together as a team, the better, outside of the complex.”

It's been well-documented how the 2015 team’s unexpected success — the 12-0 regular season, the Rose Bowl — was built around a culture and brotherhood that was developed in the offseason.

The pundits aren’t picking 2017 Iowa to make much Big Ten Conference noise.

All the more reason for players to zero in on culture, conditioning and those signs on the wall.

“What you do today matters,” Hesse reiterated. “That’s just a good approach to life, in my mind. If you focus on everything you can do today, you’re going to be in a better place long-term.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.