When you ask Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz about the Cy-Hawk rivalry, one line always seems to be a part of his answer: “It’s great for our state.”
“This is one week where people in the state, a lot of people are talking about football,” coach Ferentz said.
How could they not? It’s a game that showcases all the best parts of football in the state of Iowa. Saturday’s game will feature 100 players from the Hawkeye state, two good defense and it’s all sponsored by…corn.
This weekend, all of that is in the spotlight. With the game being a top-10 matchup for the first time and College Gameday in town, it’s a chance to show the nation what Iowa football is all about on college football’s grandest stage.
“You just think about the fact that our state, 3 million plus, has two top-quality Power Five programs,” coach Ferentz said. “Throw UNI in there and then a lot of good Division II and Division III programs, as well, it’s really amazing. I don’t know if there’s another state that can say that.”
Though he might be the central figure of this rivalry after 23 years, that’s still an outsider’s perspective from Michigan native Kirk Ferentz. To really understand the magnitude, you have to talk to those who weren’t hired into the rivalry, but born into it.
There’s a couple of them on this team. One is senior kicker Caleb Shudak, who’s dad kicked for the Cyclones in the late 80s.
“I don’t know if he’ll ever admit it, but it was probably tough for him initially, because he’s a die-hard Iowa State fan,” Shudak said.
The other is junior defensive end Joe Evans, whose dad Spence also played for the Hawkeyes, and who grew up in Ames.
“As a kid, you see it, you live it,” Evans said. “I lived in Ames, I was an Iowa fan. There were a lot of conversations with my friends back at the school cafeteria, at the table. It’s electric.”
Anywhere you look this week, you’ll see the passion they’re talking about. A kind of passion you only find in college football about a type of rivalry you only find in Iowa. Where else can you find a game that led to a boycott of a gas station by an entire fan base?
Stepping on the field for the rivalry is nothing new for players like Shudak and Evans. For the “outsiders”, it’s a paradigm shift.
“2018, so it was my freshman year, I want to say it was the fourth quarter at Kinnick when the I-O-W-A chant went for I don’t know, 15 minutes,” junior quarterback and California native Spencer Petras said. “I was like holy smokes, this is different than any game I’d ever been to. That’s when I realized it’s a huge game.”
“I didn’t know how much the rivalry meant until I got on campus,” junior running back Tyler Goodson said. “Just going around campus, seeing the signs, the disrespectful signs and gestures.”
The games provide moments they’ll never forget.
“My redshirt freshman year, we played there and we had the punt that hit their guy and we recovered it,” junior receiver Nico Ragaini said. “It was a pretty crazy moment. They thought they had us and then we got them with that play. So it was pretty cool.”
And it probably is pretty cool to have the 70 thousand people chant the four letters you bear across your chest, or to extend the winning streak to five in the most dramatic way possible.
But it pales in comparison to what Saturday means to the men who’ve been part of this rivalry since they were boys.
“It is cool to think about being on the field, kicking on the same uprights he did, finally,” Shudak said. “He was my childhood hero. I was like ‘this guy, best kicker in the world, he’s amazing.’ So being able to follow in his footsteps is a dream come true.”
The manifestation of a dream conceived in the very stands they’ll look up into this weekend.
“Fifth grade year, my dad took me to the Iowa-Iowa State game,” Evans said. “I had all my Iowa gear on and I was all excited, big rivalry. I remember my dad looking down on the field and saying, ‘that’s going to be you some day.’ Pointed at the Iowa team and that’s something I’ll never forget.”