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Leistikow: Big Ten football's return brings differing opinions from Hawkeye parents

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

When the Big Ten Conference’s plan to return to football was revealed Wednesday morning, Kirk Ferentz outlined that there were feelings of excitement and trepidation within the Iowa football building.

Thrilled to get a chance to play, the 22nd-year Hawkeye head coach said during a Big Ten Network interview, but a little wary about returning to game action in five weeks after the team has experienced so much missed training time because of the coronavirus.

That type of mixed reaction was prevalent, too, among Iowa football parents — who, as you probably recall, made headlines a month ago when many of them organized to speak out against the Big Ten’s poor communication surrounding the Aug. 11 decision to discontinue the fall season.

To try and gather a wide range of perspectives, the Register talked with parents representing every classification, from first-year freshman to fifth-year senior, and across four states. Parents of three Black players and two white players were interviewed. Here’s a look at what they had to say.

Deon Craig, father of true freshman defensive end Deontae Craig

Craig checks in with his son three times a day. Probably a little much, he jokes, but he wants to make sure Deontae and fellow Indiana-native roommate Jay Higgins are wearing their masks and limiting their circle of exposure.

Deon Craig is worried in particular about myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that is caused by viruses. His perspective as the father of a true freshman was that his son might be redshirting anyway; he was content with the Big Ten’s original decision not to play this fall.

“You catch this stuff and get that heart condition, it’s not going to be good,” he says. “I can’t say that I’m happy. I don’t know. There are still a lot of unknowns about this virus.”

Craig says his son is planning to push forward on the field — student-athletes are given the option to sit out without losing scholarship benefits — but isn’t optimistic that the planned nine-game season (set to begin Oct. 23-24) will occur. He correctly notes that if even a small percentage of a team tests positive for the coronavirus, that could sideline the entire team for a game or more.

“That’s my point. That’s going to happen,” Craig says. “It might not be with Iowa, but it’ll be another school that we might be playing that week. It’s going to be hard for them to do, but I guess they feel like they can do it. We’ll see.”

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson, shown during the last of Iowa's three training-camp practices in early August, has missed significant time with three coronavirus quarantines.

Felicia and Maurice Goodson, parents of second-year running back Tyler Goodson

The Atlanta-based couple has a unique perspective. Both Goodson sons who play Division I football have tested positive for the coronavirus. Younger son Taylor, a freshman at Mercer, got very sick. Tyler, Iowa’s No. 1 rusher, was asymptomatic. Not even a cough. Yet Felicia says her oldest son has been quarantined three times (twice for contact tracing) totaling a month.

When Tyler finally got back Monday, the first workout wore him down. But he wore a "Kool-Aid smile" of happiness Wednesday morning on FaceTime to tell Mom and Dad that football games were coming back.

From the start, Maurice Goodson has been strongly supportive of the “Let Them Play” movement. He is delighted about the Big Ten’s plan for daily, rapid-results antigen testing designed to quickly identify positive players, who must then sit out for at least 21 days.

"If the players are not positive and the opposing team is not positive, they can play,” Maurice says. “… How are they going to get it on the football field if all of them are negative?”

Felicia has been more wary about returning to play from the get-go. And although she feels better about the new Big Ten plan, she adds this: “I would probably still say let’s just wait. Who’s to say all along that the Big Ten didn’t really have it right?”

Iowa parent Jay Kallenberger (whose son, Mark, is a starting offensive lineman) speaks outside Big Ten headquarters on Aug. 21.

Mark Moss, father of third-year defensive back Riley Moss

The Ankeny elementary-school principal was one of the original parents who began to organize their frustrations in mid-August over the Big Ten's abrupt decision. He feels validated that their efforts made a difference, particularly as parents from Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and other schools joined the fight.

“We knew as a parent group that if it just stayed here in Iowa, it wasn’t going to make a great impact,” Moss says.

Riley Moss will contend for a starting role, but Mark Moss says he’s happiest for older players who can showcase their talents this fall to improve their chances to make it in the NFL. 

He and his wife, Beth, heard from Riley on Wednesday. Their son’s main message?

“It’s time to go into lockdown mode and stay away from non-football people.”

Iowa players Djimon Colbert, Tyler Linderbaum and Brandon Smith are shown two months ago with head coach Kirk Ferentz at a press conference at Kinnick Stadium. Players like Smith, in his senior year, will get a desired final chance to showcase his skills ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Tyjauna Smith, mother of fourth-year wide receiver Brandon Smith

The Hawkeyes’ top “X” receiver had been likely to sit out 2020 and return for a fifth Iowa season in 2021 if the Big Ten waited until the winter or spring to play. Now, Smith plans to play the fall season and show that he’s worthy of being chosen in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“It is a phenomenal chance. It’s what we’ve prayed for, what he’s worked hard for all these years,” Tyjauna says. “It’s a blessing he actually will get an opportunity to play with Iowa his final year. I love it.”

Brandon has told his mother that he feels far safer going to football practice than going to class on the University of Iowa campus, where coronavirus cases remain plentiful. Based in Mississippi, where the Southeastern Conference has been charging toward a late-September start, Tyjauna Smith applauds the Big Ten's stringent medical protocols.

“I think they are onto some top-level stuff,” she says, “that the other conferences should be looking to as well.”

Dawn Beyer, mother of fifth-year senior tight end Shaun Beyer

She reports her son (a former Cedar Rapids Kennedy star who has seven catches in an injury-curtailed career) and three roommates — fellow fifth-year seniors Dalles Jacobus, Caleb Shudak and Austin Spiewak — are thrilled to get a shot at the fall season. However, Ken and Dawn Beyer won’t be continuing their tradition of dining at their son’s house after games.

“I don’t want to burst his bubble in any way,” Dawn says. “So we won’t be doing that. There’s plenty of time after the season.”

She was among the “Let Them Play” Iowa parents. Although there was frustration with how things were initially handled by the Big Ten, she is satisfied with the clarity and communication shown in the new plan.

And, she notes, the parental Zoom calls over the past month provided unexpected, unifying positives. That’s particularly notable on the heels of racial-bias concerns in the program that were raised in June.

“My Hawkeye family is a lot bigger,” Dawn Beyer says. “I knew some of the people, but not as well as I do now. The feeling of unity, I hear it’s never been stronger with the team. And it’s certainly never been stronger among the parents.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.