WATERLOO – Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley is back in his element.
Teaching, coaching and preparing his team during a preseason football camp with the entire squad present.
The Panthers are back to normal after a crazy COVID-impacted year that saw them play an abbreviated seven-game spring schedule.
Now everything is back to what they are accustomed to as UNI continues preparations for its Sept. 4 opener at Iowa State. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.
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“The best thing right now is we are practicing outside in the heat,” Farley said following Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “The heat has not fazed us like it has in other years. We’re really getting conditioned to the weather. We just have to continue to clean up our rhythm so we’re running as smoothly as possible.
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“It’s important to get acclimated to playing and competing this time of day. And we’ve been practicing in the late afternoon, which simulates the time we will be playing against Iowa State. If you’re not ready for the conditions in a game like that, the humidity knocks you out. If you’re prepared for it, you can adjust and move on. When it’s hot and humid like this, you acclimate to the conditions.”
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With construction still going on inside the UNI-Dome as well as at their outdoor practice facility, UNI has spent preseason camp practicing at Waterloo’s Memorial Stadium.
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“Everything is going really well – it’s been great practicing over here,” Farley said just moments after Wednesday’s workout concluded. “The playing surface is great and it limits injuries. This is the first time we’ve practiced at a facility like this before the season. It has worked out well.”
Not being limited by COVID protocols and restrictions also has been a blessing this season, Farley said.
“Having everyone together is essential to developing our team,” he said. “You can’t develop a team through Zoom. You can talk to people through Zoom, but you can’t build the camaraderie and unity and create a team unless you’re together in person. That’s what camp is for. We’re together for a long period of time and that’s what we’re doing again. That’s how the players learn and this gives the coaches a chance to really teach. This is when you really bring a team together.”
One of the biggest question marks facing UNI in preseason camp is who will be the starting quarterback.
Two-year starter Will McElvain returns at QB, but Farley brought in transfers Theo Day from Michigan State and Matt Morrissey from Trinity Valley to compete for the starting job.
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“We need to get our quarterback depth chart narrowed down to two guys – you can’t get three guys reps,” Farley said. “I need to confirm what I think before I make a decision. I already know who our top three quarterbacks are. By the time Monday rolls around, I will probably be down to two.”
The Panthers are just over two weeks away from playing at a strong Iowa State team that won nine games last year. The Cyclones are ranked No. 7 nationally in The Associated Press preseason poll.
“For Iowa State, we will start working on our preparation for them about a week and a half before the game,” Farley said. “We will put together a game plan and hone our system in on that. Iowa State is so good. We just have to get our fundamentals and basics in right now, and then focus on Iowa State over the next couple of weeks.”
Practice field update
UNI also is close to moving to its remodeled outdoor practice facility, located just north of the UNI-Dome.
Northern Iowa is expected to begin practicing there sometime in the next few weeks.
“I went by there (Wednesday) morning and the turf wasn’t put down yet,” Farley said. “I saw the truck there with the field turf sign. I think they’re bringing in their equipment, but they haven’t started yet as far as I know. It’s exciting because it shows a level of commitment and it also shows a standard that we should all be trying to achieve. And that’s an elite level. We want a class field that looks sharp.”
Craig Sesker is a sports reporter for the Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @Craigsesker. You can reach him via email at Craig.Sesker@WCFCourier.com or via phone at 319-575-2891.