Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal

Iowa State quarterback Jerome Tiller threw the prettiest ball he’s thrown in three years on the opening play from scrimmage in today’s annual spring game—a 30 yard tight spiraled strike to Darius Reynolds into a stiff wind. Highly touted junior college transfer Steele Jantz threw an equally impressive touchdown strike later in the first half. Jantz’ throw was into a stiff wind too. The defense returns 9 of 11 starters from a unit that surprised most college football experts a year ago. A new 13-year television deal between Fox and the Big 12 was inked this past week, meaning nearly every Cyclone football game will be televised beginning in 2012. The deal, according to Big 12 officials is the most lucrative television contract in all of sports. Yes, hope springs eternal in Cyclone country this April, still four months away from another college football season.

It was a windy, cold day at Jack Trice Stadium, but that didn’t stop thousands of Cyclone fans from venturing out to see who the new quarterback might be this fall, or what all the hype is about a slew of exciting running backs—maybe the best depth and combination of running backs the school has ever had when it’s all said and done.

It appears as though Jerome Tiller (12-18; 174 yards; 2 TD’s) and Steele Jantz remain in a close competition at the QB spot. Jantz threw for 113 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown pass from Jantz was a gorgeous 50-yard touch pass to his junior college teammate Aaron Horne. Of all the players that impressed me the most today, it was Horne who had 8 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. Horne, will join three returning starters from last years receiving corps—Darius Reynolds, Darius Darks and Josh Lenz to give the Cyclones a potent, experienced passing game. The biggest question that remains though, is who will be leading that passing attack?

Whether it’s Jantz, Tiller, or even freshman Jared Barnett who looked great as a scrambler but not so much as a passer, one thing is for certain—it’s April, there’s a lot of talent returning from a team that nearly made a bowl game last year, there’s the new TV deal, we get the Hawks at home this year, and yes—hope springs eternal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Falling In Love With…Soccer???

I used to hate soccer. Despised it, actually. The whole “minivan” and “coffee addict-soccer mom” stigmas overshadowed the thoughts that soccer was actually a real sport. That, and the fact that so many matches ended with such low scores and I really had no reason to watch it gave me little reason to think otherwise. It just never seemed as exciting as the big television sports of baseball, basketball and football.

As a sports fan, I’d always dreamed of cheering for my children someday when they played sports. Until recently, there hadn’t been anything to get too excited about (the tee-ball games and soccer games ages five through nine are mostly fun and exercise more than anything). But a year and a half ago, it finally began to get exciting. My oldest boy, Sawyer (now 12), was in a Youth Soccer League that included 6 other central Iowa teams: Gilbert, Nevada, Indianola, Knoxville, Urbandale and Altoona. He was finally at the age where they started to keep score and keep track of team records. The games actually meant something.

After losing the first game that year, the boys improved leaps and bounds every week. Other than a tie with a tough Knoxville team on the road, the Ballard boys didn’t lose another contest all season. With a record of 5-1-1, the Division title came down to the final game of the season—a rematch with Gilbert, the only team we had lost to. The boys won that contest to finish 6-1-1, and for the first time in my life, I was really excited about soccer.

Last season wasn’t quite as successful, with several of the boys from the previous year’s team graduating up to the next age level. There was talent, but they lacked experience and cohesiveness. This year though, the excitement is back. The boys have started the season 2-0, looking very impressive after a 10-1 victory on Sunday. It’s been really fun to watch a core group of kids stick together and mature into a cohesive unit this early into the season. It’s becoming obvious that if this group and the group ahead of them sticks together through high school that they could accomplish some really great things.

It’s amazing what happens to your interests in life when your kids are involved. The Ballard high school squad is currently ranked #9 in boys’ soccer. My son’s Youth 12 team plays a tough Perry squad this coming Sunday and I can’t wait to see how we do. Our little “right defender” is playing some good soccer with a great bunch of kids right now and for the first time in my life I can honestly say, “I’m loving soccer.”