Kirk Ferentz is down to three healthy corners for the Outback Bowl: Desmond King, Josh Jackson and Michael Ojemudia.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — When the topic of his newborn daughter came up, C.J. Beathard couldn’t stop smiling.
The Iowa quarterback was borderline giddy as he spoke with amazement about being in the delivery room Monday when his girlfriend of 3½ years, Maddy Chupka, gave birth to their first child, Lyla.
“It was incredible,” Beathard said. “One of those surreal moments that you don’t have many of in your entire life.
“My heart’s filled with love when I think of my daughter.”
Disbelief of finding out last spring he would be a father has transitioned now to joy.
Beathard admittedly struggled with the news at first. But he found strength in his Christian faith and through conversation with his parents, Casey and Susan, over the course of nine months.
The Iowa quarterback's daughter, Lyla, was born Monday.
“When you first find out it’s, ‘Man, you’ve got to be kidding me,’” Beathard said. “Talking to God, (it helped) knowing He’s going to make right out of this, and He’s got a plan for this.
“My mom had me when she was 21 years old. She said right now it’s going to be tough. You think the world is going to end, fall, whatever. You’re going to look back 10 years from now, and be like, ‘Wow, I can’t imagine life without this little girl.’ And I’m already starting to feel like that.”
Beathard will soon have to leave his daughter behind for nine days as he heads off to play his final college game. The Hawkeyes depart Monday for Tampa, Fla., and the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has had many players over the years juggle parenting with an already-full football and academic calendar. He referenced linebacker great Abdul Hodge, the Hawkeyes’ honorary captain vs. Nebraska on Nov. 25, as one example.
“It's certainly not easy to be a college football player, and to have a child on top of it, that's one more part to the equation,” Ferentz said. “But I think the key thing is great parental support from both sides, and that's exactly what we have here. So it's really, it was great news. And based on what I know, really comfortable with the whole situation. I think everybody is in a good place to support the baby.”
A focus on Florida
Iowa hasn’t won any of its last four bowl games, a stat that’s been driven home within the program since January.
Perhaps most alarming is that the Hawkeyes have been outscored by an unfathomable 98-7 margin in the first halves of those losses to Oklahoma (2011 Insight Bowl), LSU (2014 Outback), Tennessee (2015 TaxSlayer) and Stanford (2016 Rose).
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Among the routine changes on this upcoming business trip: Only one night (the first) where players can stay out past 11 p.m.
Another: A more game-focused approach to practice. Iowa began installing the Florida game plan in Thursday’s practice and will be lightening the physical workload overall.
“Now it's more a matter of coming in and kind of a little bit of a November mode, the latter part of the season where we do trim times down,” Ferentz said. “We're typically on the field longer in September than we are in November.
“Just wanted them to feel like we're really kind of honing in on what we're trying to do. It takes a mature team to do that, so that's a risk you take.”
Media members got about 25 minutes to peek inside practice Thursday, and one hulking body was hard to miss. Offensive tackle Cole Croston was back on the field and practicing with the first unit.
When Croston (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) was at right tackle, Ike Boettger was operating at left guard. Despite not playing a snap on Iowa’s offensive line in November, Croston was a third-team all-Big Ten choice by the league’s coaches.
Ferentz was optimistic that Croston (lower-leg injury) would return to face Florida.
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“Hardly out of the woods, and he missed a lot of time,” Ferentz said. “But the good news is everything is positive right now, and hopefully we can just kind of keep him on track. And if so, we plan on playing him.”
Keegan Render also rotated in with the first team in Thursday’s practice at left guard, with Boettger at right tackle.
More good news
Help is on the way for Iowa’s tight end group.
In the immediate future, senior George Kittle seems to be turning the corner. The Hawkeyes’ top player at that position, who has 10 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons, is practicing fully after battling through a right lower-leg injury suffered Oct. 15 at Purdue.
“He was hardly at full throttle in the Nebraska game,” Ferentz said. “He's a lot further down the track. Nobody is 100 percent healthy this time of year unfortunately, and it will probably take him a month or two to get back. But he looks more like George Kittle now, which is a good thing.”
In the future, Ferentz was upbeat about the development of freshmen Noah Fant (who caught nine balls for 70 yards), T.J. Hockenson (redshirted) and Shaun Beyer (redshirted).
“T.J. has done a really nice job, and we felt good about those two guys in particular in camp,” Ferentz said, “and that kind of helped us move Noah along, knowing that we felt like we had two pretty good players to stagger (eligibility-wise).
“I think collectively that group of three has a chance to be really good. That's important for us. As you know, we like to use tight ends. I feel good about that. We'll know more as we go along. But so far, so good.”
Welcome back, MVB
Also seen at Thursday’s practice: Matt VandeBerg catching passes and running routes.
The senior wide receiver won’t play in the Outback Bowl, but he got good news this week from the Big Ten Conference that his medical-hardship waiver was approved. VandeBerg has been sidelined since Sept. 26 with a broken left foot.
VandeBerg announced his return to the team Wednesday. He has 106 career receptions and was Iowa’s leading receiver before the injury.
“He actually came up and thanked me,” Ferentz said. “I don't know what he thanked me for; I should be thanking him. Just really the opportunity to come back, like we were going to shut him out or something or kick him on the street.”