Hawkeyes welcome 2013 season
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Brett Van Sloten loves celebrating Christmas, just not in Decorah, Iowa.
James Morris was downright miserable last December.
Van Sloten and Morris are two senior leaders on the University of Iowa football team. Both are veterans of multiple bowl games and both are ready to return to the postseason. The Hawkeyes are coming off an atypical season of 4-8, void of a trip to a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
"Not going to a bowl leaves a bitter taste in your mouth," Van Sloten says. "Going into college football, you tell your parents you don't want to be home for the holidays, because that means you're having success. Being home and celebrating Christmas (in 2012) wasn't the same as celebrating in Phoenix or Miami."
Van Sloten, an offensive tackle, and Morris, a middle linebacker, were joined by senior outside linebacker Christian Kirksey and head coach Kirk Ferentz at the Big Ten Football Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon on July 24 and 25 at the Chicago Hilton.
"It was rough just because physically I wasn't feeling great, school was out, and there was a lot of idle time to think about your shortcomings," Morris says. "There was time to wallow about how dissatisfied you were—for being a five-week break from school, it wasn't that enjoyable."
The Hawkeyes still feel a little ill, sick of talking about a 4-8 season, tired of answering questions about missing a bowl game for the first time in five years. They would all rather be in fall camp, so they can field fresh, original, and less painful queries.
The University of Iowa football team will stage its annual "Kids at Kinnick" day Saturday, Aug. 17. Gates to Kinnick Stadium will open at 4 p.m. with the team's practice scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
For Morris, a key word in his responses is pride.
"Pride in myself, the football player I want to be, the type of team I want to be on, pride for my teammates, pride for my team and my university," he says. "I'm proud of what we have done in the past, and I don't think that 4-8 is a great reflection of myself or the university, and I want to change it. Why? Because I'm proud of myself and where I go to school."
Nine teams on the Hawkeyes' 2013 schedule played in a bowl game a year ago and two were postseason winners. If that isn't a stiff enough challenge, Iowa plays at Ohio State on Oct. 19. The Buckeyes were 12-0 in 2012, but ineligible for a bowl.
"If you look at (a soft) schedule you may think you can ease your way around it," Kirksey says. "You might get lackadaisical and you may not go as hard. Once you see you have a tough schedule, you'll work your butt off, know the road ahead of you, and try to fight your way through it."
Camp opens Aug. 5 for the Hawkeyes with the season-opener Aug. 31 against BCS-bowl participant Northern Illinois inside Kinnick Stadium. In retrospect, one of the biggest wins of the 2012 season for Iowa was an 18-17 decision against the Huskies in Chicago's Soldier Field—the only regular-season loss for Northern Illinois.
It also demonstrates the small margin of error between being a consistent winner and a Hawkeye team that couldn't put the brakes on six consecutive losses.
"I don't think our shortcomings last year were due to lack of motivation at all. I think it was more detail," Morris says. "The biggest focus for us is attention to detail and understanding how fine the line is from starting the season 4-2, 2-0 in the conference, and then all of the sudden to a six-game slide. It can happen just like that, and the next thing you know it snowballs, and it's out of control."
Van Sloten says it is important to remember how painful 4-8 felt. At the same time, the Hawkeyes agree that they turned the page last December, not this July.
"We want to push forward and leave our own footprint as the 2013 Iowa Hawkeyes," Van Sloten says.
"Everybody is starting from ground zero; everyone has an equal chance," added Kirksey. "Now you see what you're made of."