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Spotlight Iowa City: Capturing Hawkeye football on film

BY AMIE KIEHN | NOVEMBER 19, 2009 7:21 AM

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Doting teenage girls in New Sharon, Iowa, think Erick Tjarks is the man. According to his 15-year-old sister Mackenzi, he knows Ricky Stanzi — sizable news for the town with one blinking stoplight.

“Mackenzi likes to wear her Ricky Stanzi jersey and claim that I’m good friends with him,” said Tjarks, smiling widely and laughing. “[It] kind of gets me in trouble sometimes. People ask me about Rick, and I have no idea, because I see him, like, three times a week, and I might talk to him once a week, and it might be for 10 seconds.”

The UI junior isn’t on the football team, although his wardrobe may show otherwise (he has two closets, one specifically reserved for his supply of free Hawkeye apparel). The business major is one of four students who film Iowa’s practices and games for coaches and players to study the tape and break down their miscues.

Atop what is sometimes a 60-foot lift, Tjarks and his colleagues — Alec Johnson, Jordan O’Brion and Kyle Yoder — record football practice and travel with the Hawks to get them on film.

For a football fan, it has perks.

Tjarks and Johnson — who have the coveted chance to travel alongside the Hawkeyes as they jet from stadium to stadium — got to witness the spectacular last-minute comeback drive this season in East Lansing, catapulting Iowa to its best start in school history.

“We’re up there going nuts,” Johnson recalled. “It was pretty wild.”

The job was a gamble for Tjarks. As a former RA in Quadrangle Hall, the 20-year-old had to make the decision last spring to return to the job, which offers free room and board, or wait to hear whether he nabbed his dream job to work with the football team.

Obviously, he got his wish.

Now Tjarks puts in about 20 hours a week, making $7.20 an hour. Just before the Hawkeye football complex parking lot is enveloped with players’ mopeds, the four students load batches of cables, extensions cords, and black durable camera cases onto a motorized cart and head over to the practice field.

“They all bring something different. Personality traits, characteristics, they all bring something different to the table, which makes it one of the more unique four that I’ve had,” said Matt Engelbert, the Iowa video coordinator.

But the glamorous image associated with Iowa football glistens slightly less on rainy days.

The Wednesday before the Michigan game is a day Tjarks will not forget anytime soon — rain and cameras do not mix.

“It started to sprinkle,” Tjarks said. “So I took my jacket off and laid it over the camera, zipped it up — that makes it even harder to film. There were 40 mph winds and so the [lifts] are just rocking 4 or 5 feet in either direction. It was unreal.

“You know it’s not going to fall, but you feel like it’s going to fall.”

It’s not the only frazzling part of the gig. Sitting on worn wooden chairs inside the Java House downtown a day out from the Ohio State game, Tjarks admitted nerves were the culprit of his sweaty palms.

“I feel like I’m contributing to something,” he said, but added, “It’s something bigger than me.”

Tjarks clearly loves being at the epicenter of Iowa football, so it’s probably fitting the golden-stitched Tigerhawk is positioned right above his heart on his black fleece.


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