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Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston explains what his favorite animal is and why. He also talk about a newfound appreciation of giraffes. Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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TAMPA, Fla. — It takes a lot to scare a big college football player like Chauncey Golston.

A giraffe named Cupid did the trick Saturday at Busch Gardens, even though she was happily eating Romaine lettuce out of Golston’s hand.

“I’m not really big into animals,” Golston said after joining six of his Iowa Hawkeye teammates on a private outing to the amusement park.

“For it to be my first time, it was a little too close for comfort. Besides that, they were very gentle, and their saliva is very sticky. That surprised me.”

Golston, a sophomore defensive end from Detroit, wore a wide smile after the giraffe-feeding expedition. Cupid, the tallest female among the Busch Gardens herd, is a recent mother. So she has a big appetite and loves to see tourists bouncing toward her in the green trucks ready to dispense treats. She seemed particularly drawn to the 6-foot-5 Golston, continually leaning down to look over his shoulder while he reloaded the lettuce supply.

Iowa is in town to prepare for Tuesday’s Outback Bowl matchup with Mississippi State. Football was not on Golston’s mind at the park Saturday. But he was aware that it was his skill as an athlete that was affording him this moment of a lifetime.

“It’s crazy how a sport can bring you this far. Doing something that you love can bring you so much joy,” Golston said.

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Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette says teammates Brandon Smith and Devonte Young struggled on amusement park ride. Hear more: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

“Got to get out of your comfort zone. They’re very beautiful animals. … I’ve been to the zoo, but everything’s behind glass, so it’s totally different. You can’t match that feeling.”

Golston was looking forward to showing friends and family back home the pictures of his excursion. He didn’t think anyone would believe him without visual proof. He also said he would consider feeding giraffes again someday.

“Not too soon, though,” he said.

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith ended up with giraffe spit on his shirt after he was trying to conceal a piece of lettuce in search of a better picture. The giraffe leaned down and licked him. He got the picture, though, and a new goal.

“It made me really want to get a giraffe. I’d buy a giraffe,” Smith said.

It was a much different sensation later in the afternoon for Smith. Three Hawkeye players, plus running backs coach Derrick Foster, agreed to go up on a ride called Falcon’s Fury. It’s a 30-story drop in which riders are splayed facedown while hurtling toward the ground, to simulate a true bird’s-eye view of things.

Smith only went on the ride because fellow sophomore wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette was going. Smith regretted it immediately, as Smith-Marsette was happy to relay to reporters afterward.

“Not even a quarter way up, he was like, ‘This is high. Why did I do this?’” Smith-Marsette said.

On his other side, Iowa safety Devonte Young was complaining about a stiff neck. Smith-Marsette said he and Foster kept their cool.

“I’m going to clown (Smith) for a minute,” Smith-Marsette said. “I ride rides all the time. This is what I do. Extreme sports.”

It’ll be back to normal sports, like football, soon enough. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

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