14 stops, 14 practices: Tom Dienhart's best of 2016 bus tour
Another August, another Big Ten Network tour in the books. I have been on five now. And for a guy who loves football, food and fun, I feel lucky. Here is a fun look at the Best of the 2016 BTN Bus Tour.
Penn State. The place belongs on a postcard, nestled in the hills of central Pennsylvania. Go ahead and put on your letterman’s jacket and stroll across campus for a dip of Alumni Swirl ice cream at the Berkley Creamery.
Michigan. No Big Ten campus has a better downtown area than Ann Arbor. Stroll down Main Street and State Street, and you’ll know what I mean. Grow your hair long and bring your hacky sack. Do they still play hacky sack?
Wisconsin. Madison is squeezed on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. It’s a rollicking place that’s the epitome of fun. The bastion of liberal vibrancy, Madison is tie-dye T-shirt friendly and home to many “free” thinkers. And the restaurant/bar scene has no peer.
Indiana. This is a campus direct from central casting. The indigenous limestone buildings tucked among gentle, rolling hills of this bucolic burg will make you want to sip $4 coffee in your Birkenstocks forever.
Bruno’s, West Lafayette. Come for the food, stay for the history. Bruno’s has been a Purdue institution since 1955. The pizza is yum-o and cut in funky long strips. Best of all: you dine among a virtual Boilermaker sports museum of artifacts. If you’re lucky, “Big O” Orlando Itin will take his hands out of the dough and give you a tour.
The Tavern, State College, Pa. The place is an iconic haunt on the Penn State campus that is known for its “unlimited sides.” The floors creak when you walk and photos of past sports heroes hang from the walls.
Thurman Café, Columbus, Ohio. The size the hamburgers in this cozy spot will bring the biggest person you know to their knees. It’s a spectacular homage to meat.
Lazlo’s, Lincoln, Neb. This place is an anchor of the bustling historic Haymarket District, a shining beacon amid a cacophony of entertainment options. Don’t overlook it. My tip: get the steak.
Manny’s, Minneapolis. Pack your wallet and Ginsu knife for an experience you’ll tell your grandchildren about. The 85-day aged bone-in ribeye will bring you to your knees.
Crunchy’s, East Lansing, Mich. The quintessential college joint. Get the Famous Crunchy Burger and fried pickles. Then carve your initials in a booth.
Rutgers DE Julian Pinnix-Odrick. He could host a TV show. He’s an engaging personality who isn’t camera shy.
Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp. He’s one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, and he delivers soundbites as easily as he hauls in highlight-reel catches. Bonus points for the headware, too.
Wisconsin K Rafael Gaglianone. The Brazilian talks a mile a minute and has a good perspective on life. He’s a good kicker but an even better person who is wearing No. 27 to honor Nebraska punter Sam Foltz.
MOST PHYSICALLY IMPOSING
Nebraska T David Knevel. At 6-9, 315 pounds, Knevel is a human monolith.
Minnesota T Jonah Pirsig. He would be a good book-end to Knevel, as Pirseg checks in at 6-8, 325.
Northwestern LB Anthony Walker. “The Franchise” has added weight and sports muscles in places where other people don’t have places.
Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt. First thing to know—he’s J.J.’s little brother. Come to think of it, that’s all you really need to know. Watt lives for contact—and just looks like a linebacker.
Michigan DL Rashan Gary. How is he just a freshman? It’s wild to think a guy this large, this athletic was going up against poor high schoolers a year ago.
Iowa CB Desmond King delivered the hit of the Camp Tour, leveling a ball carrier with a devastating hit that elicited oohs and ahhs from players.
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong hung around after practice for over 30 minutes trying to shoot a football into a trash can across the field with a JUGs gun—and then with his powerful right arm. The guy can sling it.
It was great to check out Northwestern’s new practice that hugs Lake Michigan and has the broad shoulders of Chicago’s skyline as a backdrop. If you have to practice, you may as well do it in style. And the breeze off the lake is the ultimate air conditioning.
Ohio State. Another year, another collection of blue-chip studs. How good are the Buckeyes? The managers have managers.
Michigan. The fruits of Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting labor are apparent just watching the Wolverines coming out of the locker room. This team should be scary-good as early as this fall.
Michigan State. Few teams look as good coming out of the locker room as the Spartans. The size and build of the defensive linemen in East Lansing always amazes me.
Wisconsin. The entire team looks like a bunch of lumberjacks—minus the axes and toques and beards. Well, some of the fellas have beards.
MOST SPIRITED PRACTICES
Maryland. You’ll lose your breath just watching D.J. Durkin take his Terrapins through a work out. There was no walking between practice periods. All hustle.
Iowa. This by far was the most physical practice of the tour. You can see how the Hawkeyes forge their hard edge that has become a trademark. CB Desmond King delivered the hit of the tour.
Ohio State. A perfectly orchestrated symphony of shoulder pads cracking. No wasted motions.
Purdue. Good vibrations, fire and intensity. The Boilers showed no tired legs despite being a few weeks into camp.
MOST INTENSE ASSISTANTS
Iowa co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Brian Ferentz. It’s this simple—you either do your job the right way—or Ferentz will show you how, in a very demonstrative way.
Nebraska defensive line coach John Parrella loves the Huskers. And, it shows. He pours himself into his job. This unit won’t fail because of lack of effort from him.
Ohio State CB/special teams coach Kerry Coombs. He makes this list each season. The guy isn’t 5-10, 175 pounds, but he is a screaming machine who coaches like he’s 10-feet tall and 400 pounds.
Michigan State d-line coach Ron Burton. To play the defensive line, you need a lot of energy, passion and emotion. Burton overdoses on all three qualities, which is why he annually produces one of the best fronts in the nation.