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Hawks' next page a Big Red one

Posted September 1, 1999

By Jim Ecker
Gazette sportswriter

IOWA CITY -- The Iowa Hawkeyes don't want to talk about Ryan Loftin. Some of them scrunch up their faces and shake their heads at the mere mention of his name.

Loftin is the bitter ex-Hawkeye who quit the football team two weeks ago, allegedly threatened Coach Kirk Ferentz and has been charged with extortion.

"I think we've pretty much put it behind us," senior Matt Bowen said Tuesday. "I personally haven't put much time into it. Like I said, it's behind us."

The Hawkeyes open the 1999 season Saturday against No. 5 Nebraska. They're focusing on the Cornhuskers, not Loftin.

"It was unfortunate," senior Chad Deal said. "I'm glad to have that over with and have a game coming up."

The Hawkeyes disagree with Loftin's allegation that Iowa violated NCAA rules by conducting mandatory summer conditioning drills. Loftin also allegedly threatened to distribute Iowa's playbook to opposing teams, which led to the theft and extortion charges.

Loftin has entered the legal system. The Hawkeyes are getting ready to enter the football season.

"I think we've all been thinking football the last few weeks," Bowen said. "We've all been thinking about Nebraska."

The Hawkeyes are 23 1/2-point underdogs Saturday.

Ferentz appeared in good spirits Tuesday. The new head coach has been busy, getting his team ready for Nebraska and dealing with Loftin's messy situation.

"Well, what's new in the real world?" he joked at the beginning of his press conference.

Earthquakes in Turkey, rabid bears and another Sosa-McGwire home run race. Besides that, not much.

Ferentz would have an easier time Saturday against Nebraska State than Nebraska, but you might as well begin against the best, he figures. The Cornhuskers have won three national titles in the last five years, although they slipped to 9-4 and the Holiday Bowl last season when Frank Solich succeeded Tom Osborne as the head man in Lincoln.

"We've got a great challenge ahead of us," Ferentz said. "It's what everyone has been waiting for."

Ferentz, 44, spent nine years on Hayden Fry's staff here in the 1980s and spent the last six years as an assistant coach in the NFL, rising to assistant head coach with the Baltimore Ravens. He knows his way around a football field and is anxious to get started.

He's been mystified by Loftin, strongly denying the Hawks conducted mandatory summer drills. Loftin lost his starting job from a year ago, didn't like it and quit. Ferentz doesn't leave quitters on scholarship and Loftin tried to retaliate.

The matter is being handled by attorneys, which Ferentz is not. "It's been an issue that was over with for us a couple of weeks ago," he said. "It's time to move on."

Ferentz seemed amused by all the fuss in Nebraska this summer over the quarterback battle between Bobby Newcombe and Eric Crouch. Newcombe was anointed the starter this week.

"We didn't really have a preference," he said, noting both guys are talented. "We were hoping neither one would be the starter."

Ferentz picked sophomore Kyle McCann as his starting quarterback last week because McCann was the most consistent QB in camp, he said. McCann beat Randy Reiners and Scott Mullen for the job.

Ferentz juggled his offensive line in the past week, moving several players to new positions and inserting junior college transfer A.J. Blazek at center. The new line features Bruce Nelson at left tackle, Jay Bickford at left guard, Blazek in the middle, Chad Deal at right guard and Alonzo Cunningham at right tackle.

"We felt like that gives us our five best guys on the field and our best chance to win," he said.

Ferentz talked about winning this year and doing better than people think following a dismal 3-8 campaign. He hopes so, anyway.

"From what I know, most people don't expect too much, so yeah, I think so," he said about exceeding expectations. "We're not writing this year off, I promise you. We're looking forward to all 11 games."

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