Media day takeaways: Ekakitie, cops and freshmen to watch

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY – Faith Ekakitie was surrounded by reporters during Saturday’s Iowa football media day, though few questions the backup defensive tackle fielded were actually about football.

Ekakitie understood why.

“I made one (Facebook) post,” he said Saturday, “and it turned into national news.”

The post he was discussing was about his interaction with four Iowa City police officers, who had guns drawn thinking he might be a bank-robbery suspect. Ekakitie didn’t hear them, because he was wearing headphones while listening to music and playing Pokemon Go.

A misunderstanding didn’t go wrong, though, and both sides handled it maturely. That was the nature of Ekakitie’s post — that in a year where police shootings have been numerous, misunderstandings don’t always have to go awry. That “not all police officers are out to get you, but at the same time, not all people who fit a criminal profile are criminals.”

It was a pretty long post (569 words), but Ekakitie didn’t spend a lot of time writing it.

“Honestly, probably no longer than 10 minutes,” Ekakitie said. “Probably doesn’t come as natural for everyone. I just kind of sat there and thought about it, wrote it once, looked it over, changed a couple typos … and then kind of just left it at that.”

A few friends encouraged him to make the post public.

An outpouring of gratitude and compliments — including from coach Kirk Ferentz — came back.

In a fun media day photo, Iowa cornerback Desmond King tosses passes to defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.

“There was a surprising number of people that I didn’t know personally that reached out saying thank you,” Ekakitie said. “They were glad that I’m safe. I had a couple other police officers … from different areas in America reach out and say thank you (for understanding) we have a job to do also.”

Keep an eye on Beyer, Toks

Which true freshmen will play? Too early to know, but two names came up that’ll be worth monitoring.

First, coach Kirk Ferentz mentioned that Shaun Beyer — the former Cedar Rapids Kennedy multi-sport star — is listed at tight end, but might experiment with playing out wide with his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. He’s an athletic freak.

“We're a little thin (at receiver),” Ferentz said, “so we're play around with him for the first 10 days and see what looks best.”

Second, running back Toks Akinribade’s name came up a few times on the practice field. The 6-foot, 205-pound native of Brownsburg, Ind., could help the Hawkeyes’ depth if LeShun Daniels Jr., Akrum Wadley or Derrick Mitchell Jr. get hurt.

“Toks is a big back, but he can play small, if you know what I’m saying,” running backs coach Chris White said. “He can get his pads down.

“This kid is fluid, he’s fast, he can play strong, he can play the perimeter. He’s rough around the edges right now as all freshmen are. … But I tell you what, it’s going to be fun working with him.”

We’ll probably learn more about which true freshmen are playing on game week or sometime during the Sept. 3 opener against Miami of Ohio. But the “help wanted” sign is out.

“If they can help us on special teams, help us with depth, we're wide open to it,” Ferentz said. “Or if they have a skill set that might be a little bit unique compared to what our older guys have, we're open to that, too. We want to win right now. That's our first goal.”

More media day coverage:

Welcome back, James

Iowa on Saturday had its third practice of fall camp, but the first with players wearing pads.

For James Daniels, it marked the first time since the Rose Bowl that he’s blocked anybody. Iowa’s starting right guard missed spring practice after knee surgery.

It’s been a long seven months for Daniels, a true sophomore who’s still just 18 and listed as the Hawkeyes’ starting right guard.

“It’s been really fun this camp, getting out here and moving around and actually blocking people,” Daniels said with a big grin to match his personality.

Daniels said he hurt the knee in the middle of last season but played through it. During the spring, Sean Welsh was moved to center — Daniels’ presumed landing spot after Austin Blythe ran out of eligibility — and has stayed there.

“It’s tough. When things like that happen, you just have to worry about getting healthy,” Daniels said. “Then when you’re watching practice, you have to take a lot of mental reps. So I’d take mental reps every day. Sometimes mental reps are a lot better than taking physical reps. So it worked itself out.”

Ferentz did his homework

Ferentz has never voted in the USA TODAY Coaches’ Poll, which this week came out giving Iowa a preseason No. 15 ranking.

The 18th-year head Hawk just doesn’t have interest in voting for teams he never gets to see play.

But about that No. 15 mark, Iowa’s first preseason ranking since No. 10 in 2010?

“It just so happens I did a little research on that,” Ferentz said. (It doesn’t surprise us.)

“Of the 25 teams that were in the preseason (poll) last year, eight of them didn't make the cut at the end, and then eight teams didn't make it, entered in. Probably most noteworthy, I think, would be Houston won 13 games, we won 12. Neither us were mentioned a year ago at this point. So the thing I think our players need to understand is that door swings both ways.”

Roster notes, a final word

  • Ferentz said second-string slot wide receiver Jonathan Parker did indeed have foot surgery (he had hinted at it during Big Ten media days in late July), and there was no timetable for his return. Redshirt freshman Ryan Boyle has been working primarily in the slot role.
  • Four players were being withheld from camp because of injury: offensive lineman Mitch Keppy, defensive lineman Michael Slater, defensive end Austin Schulte and linebacker Jacob Sobotka. 
  • A final thought from Ferentz: “We still have a lot of work to do. Go back to last year, I think last year's team really made major strides from Aug. 1 to Sept 1., and that's what this team has to do, too.”