In the FCS Huddle: Track, football work together at Northern Iowa
Philadelphia, PA – Carlos Anderson and Jarred Herring may have the largest fan following of any two sprinters in the Missouri Valley Conference.
While their status as the two "Fastest Men in the Missouri Valley" - by virtue of winning the premier events in the MVC Championships - may help their following, it doesn't hurt to have the entire Northern Iowa football team behind them.
"I'm there, our assistant coaches are there and, of course, their teammates are there," football coach Mark Farley said. "I remember we had a pretty packed house for the 60-meter dash at the indoor meet and with our guys always finishing in the top three, the rest of the guys get pretty good charge out of it."
Of course, Anderson and Herring are football players, taking the speed they display on the football field to win the MVC's 60-meter indoor championship and the 100-meter outdoor titles, respectively.
It's not a new phenomenon to have dual-sport athletes at Northern Iowa. In fact, Farley has often used the track program as selling point to potential recruits.
"It's definitely a win-win situation for both of us (track and football)," Farley said. "When we go into a house, we not only let a kid know it's a possibility, but we can also name instances where guys have had success with both sports. So, there's no question we help each other out."
Anderson, Herring and Wilmot Wellington are the most recent success story for Farley and track coach Dan Steele. The trio earned honorable mention All- America honors as members of the 4x100-meter relay in addition to their individual accolades.
Of course, spending the fall together in a huddle doesn't hurt the teamwork that the Panthers' track team needs in a relay.
"It's a pretty strong bond we have," Anderson said. "We're all coming from the same place and all putting in the same amount of work. That definitely helps when we're taking it from the football field to the track."
That teamwork and camaraderie is even more important in the spring, when the football-turned-track stars spend the weekdays on the football field and the weekends at the track.
"You do have to tough it out sometimes," Anderson said. "It's not the easiest job going from football practice early in the week to track meets on weekends. I guess it's all about how tough you are mentally."
While it may be mentally taxing, runners do benefit from having a coach who understands and embraces both sports.
"I handle it on a player-by-player basis," Farley said. "Often times they'll be at practice and meetings earlier in the week and just not be involved in the scrimmages. We're also good about not getting them banged up. For instance, we don't put a running back in a position to take many hits if he's running track on the weekend."
In the spring, track may come first for dual-sport athletes, but this fall is all about winning on the football field, as the Panthers are ranked second in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25, and one of the early favorites to win a national championship.
Appropriately, the Panthers have raced by their FCS opponents this season as the run-first attack led by Tirrell Rennie - who probably wouldn't be a bad addition to the track team - has struck for more than 30 points a game.
Entering the preseason with high expectations and a preseason Top 10 ranking (No. 7), Northern Iowa has not only given opposing defenses issues, but also subdued opposing offenses, only yielding 17.7 points per game and leading the MVC in turnover margin (2.3 per game).
All good signs for Farley, who feels this is just the beginning of what his team can accomplish.
"It's been a very good fall so far; the temperament of our team and some of that comes with having success," Farley said. "We have a lot of experienced seniors, but have also mixed in new guys (seven new starters). We feel good about how the team can still grow and improve."
The feeling has resonated from the locker room to the student body and the surrounding community, as the past couple seasons for all sports - including Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas in the 2010 NCAA Basketball Tournament - has raised the expectations in Cedar Falls.
"Around campus the atmosphere is great," Herring said. "It's really a feeling around all our sports, they (the fans) are expecting great seasons out of everybody, especially us."
And for Herring and Anderson, the "Fastest Men in the Missouri Valley," would like nothing more than to add FCS champions to their already speedy resume.