IOWA CITY — Freshman linebacker Jim Poggi texted his dad last Thursday to tell him he crushed his first winter workout.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound freshman did his 100 squats of 50 percent his max weight (approximately 240 pounds) in 17 minutes. Then, he did a series of sled pushes. Later Thursday evening, he called his dad to tell him he experienced a “tremendous amount of soreness.”
“The first text I got from Jim was, ‘I did my 100 squats in 17 minutes,’” Biff Poggi said Wednesday afternoon. “Anyone who does that in 17 minutes deserves to be sore.”
The Hawkeyes returned to winter workouts the next Friday, this time focusing on upper body. They had the weekend off before returning Monday for another workout.
Some of the 13 players who were admitted to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics made it through that Monday workout before succumbing to rhabdomyolysis, an acute breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream affecting the kidney’s ability to clear toxins.
During a Wednesday afternoon news conference, the University of Iowa confirmed the Gazette’s Tuesday night report that rhabdomyolysis had stricken players after last week’s workouts. Iowa originally released that 12 players were admitted to the UIHC. UI spokesman Tom Moore said 13 players have now been admitted.
“The cause of the disorder hasn’t been pinpointed, so we really don’t know what led to this,” Moore said. “We don’t know when the students will be discharged.”
Moore cited HIPAA privacy laws and didn’t reveal the condition of individual players. Dr. John Stokes, an internist at the UIHC, took general questions on rhabdomyolysis, but isn’t directly involved in the care of any of the 13.
Other than that, specifics were few and far between and mostly came from Poggi, who’s been the head coach at the Gilman School (Baltimore, Md.). He’s sent more than 80 players to FBS programs, including two sons. Sam Poggi played at Duke.
Poggi, who was in Iowa City to visit his son and volunteered to speak at Wednesday’s news conference, has known Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz for 30 years, dating back to their days at Pittsburgh, where Poggi played and Ferentz served as a graduate assistant.
“I do not trust anyone more than I trust Kirk Ferentz,” Poggi said. “My son had a chance to go to Texas, Ohio State or Iowa. He came to Iowa because of the character of Kirk and his people. That to me is rock solid.”
The national focus, however, was on who wasn’t at Wednesday’s news conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, including Ferentz, who was doing an Ohio-Michigan recruiting swing. Athletics director Gary Barta was in Florida for a UI fundraising event. Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle wasn’t made available for reasons that are unclear.
Stokes said in young, healthy athletes recovery time can be relatively quick. He also was asked about dialysis as a course of treatment for rhabdo. He said it could be if the case is severe. Poggi said his son hasn’t been on dialysis.
Stokes also said, barring rare genetic conditions, this is a one-time occurrence. Large outbreaks are rare. There are hundreds of causes, but the one commonality with Iowa’s 13 players, he said, was the heavy workouts they endured last week.
The Thursday workout was lower body followed by upper body on Friday, a similar timing and percentage max exercise. Monday was lighter with some plyometrics and stretching.
The 13 athletes didn’t come from one workout group. Iowa typically breaks into three or four with groups ranging from 15 to 35 players. All five strength and conditioning coaches attended each session, according to Paul Federici, Iowa’s director of football operations.
“There are a variety of positions that are represented, a variety of ages,” Federici said of the 13 hospitalized players, “young men who have been with our program for three or four years, some who’ve been with our program for a semester. It’s really quite variable.”
The workouts were the first of the 2011 winter program. The players might not have known the specifics of the workouts, but, Federici said, “they know it’s ambitious and they’re going to work hard when they start the winter program.”
It is a workout that Iowa has used before, but without this type of response.
It’s not known if the athletes’ current condition factored. Iowa players have been on their own since Dec. 29, the day after the Insight Bowl. That’s more than three weeks without structured workouts.
Biff Poggi said his son didn’t do a whole lot during break.
“I could tell you he didn’t do anything except eat a lot and lay around and then this was kind of the first day back,” Poggi said. “It was a lot of work.”
Another unanswered question was the use of supplements. Did the 13 players take a common supplement? The health of the players is first, with information gathering not far behind, Federici said.
“As more information is made available, we hope to get to the point where we know more and understand what put these young men in this position,” Federici said.
Workouts continue. Workouts have to continue. They’ll continue for all 120 FCS programs.
Federici said Tuesday was an active recovery day and Wednesday was a heavier workload with another active recovery day on Thursday.
“This is an odd thing, this isn’t something you read about in every program every year,” said Poggi, who termed the rhabdo outbreak a “statistical outlier.” “I’ve been assured they’re looking at everything to find out what the story is on this. I think it’s really important that they get to the bottom of it.”