PELLA — Growing up in suburban Chicago, the only implements Central College offensive lineman Joshua Mayhew (senior, Aurora, Ill., West Aurora HS) ever used with livestock were a knife and a fork.
But when a summer job and training plans in Pella fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fellow offensive lineman Colton Anderson (junior, Boone) offered to let him develop a new workout regimen amid the four-legged inhabitants of the Anderson family farm north of Boone, giving Mayhew an up-close view of beef and pork in its original packaging. It was the Plan B of a lifetime.
“It was my first long-term exposure to a farm, besides going to hang out with my friends,” Mayhew said. “And I loved every minute of it.”
After a memorable NCAA Division III playoff run and American Rivers title share, Mayhew, Anderson and the Dutch had even grander notions for 2020. By staying in Pella during the summer, Mayhew hoped to work out at Central’s bountifully equipped Ron Schipper Fitness Center. But the virus disrupted his summer plans and those of most Americans.
“I couldn’t find anywhere to live and Colton said they would love to have me,” he said.
However, most of the equipment at the Anderson farm was made by John Deere rather than Hammer Strength. Anderson had earlier considered headquartering his summer training in Central’s fitness center as well but like their home-bound teammates, he and Mayhew suddenly had to improvise.
“We worked out a deal where I have a full rack, a few bars, a couple hundred pounds of weight and a bunch of mats that usually stay in our garage back home,” said Mayhew, whose sister, Alyssa Mayhew (Aurora, Ill., West HS), has cracked Central’s varsity women’s cross country lineup as a freshman. “So I loaded all that up in a van, drove out to Boone and set all that up in a machine shed.”
But for Anderson, the most important workout component was a partner.
“The rack and everything else did help but the main thing that really helped was to have someone to lift with.” Anderson said. “It gives you more motivation and workouts don’t seem as bad as they do when you’re alone.”
And muscle development doesn’t end with breakfast when toiling on a farm each day.
“(Farming) is a good workout,” said Anderson, who is majoring in business management with hopes of using his degree to help run the family farm. “Like when we built fence. Some of those boys have automatic post-pounders but we don’t have that so we have to pound posts by hand. It takes some endurance and it builds strength, that’s for sure.”
Mayhew quickly discovered there’s more to 21st-century ag operations than sitting on a tractor seat.
“He was just amazed the first couple of weeks at how much actually goes into the whole process,” Anderson said.
But he was a quick study.
“The first day he played the 200-questions game with me, but he picked stuff up pretty fast,” Anderson said. “He asked what to do, you told him, and he did it.”
One painful discovery was Mayhew’s first experience baling hay. He figured he was up to the challenge.
“He said, ‘Oh, it can’t be that bad. I used to lay brick when I was younger,’” Anderson said.
Anderson only smiled.
“(The first time) we did it right in the middle of the afternoon when it was about 96 degrees outside,” he said “I was the one driving. I kind of felt bad about that, but no one else was able to drive. We started baling about 1 o’clock and baled about 500 or 600 bales, got home at 5, ate dinner at around 6 and he was asleep in bed by 7. He was pretty tuckered out.”
The morning after was worse.
“We got up about 5:30 to lift before work and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sore,’” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I guess it’s not too easy after all.’”
Mayhew’s duties varied.
“I worked with Colton doing pretty much odds and ends all the time,” he said. “I fixed a lot of fence, baled a lot of square hay, drove around getting parts. I drove a lot of chemical when they were doing side dressing and spraying. But I really loved it. I mean, we got up every day to lift and then we would eat and do whatever Colton’s dad needed us to do for that day.
“It was hard work. Fixing fence wasn’t a lot of fun. I rode a lot of fence. If there was nothing much to do, I would get in the Gator and go out to the pasture, just ride along the fence, spray weeds and see if there were any holes or chase cows through the cornfield trying to get them back in the pasture.”
The Anderson farm is a massive grain operation but the family raises enough livestock to show at jackpot shows for 4H and FFA members around the Midwest as well as the county and state fair competitions. Preparing pigs for a weekend show felt nearly as rigorous to Mayhew as game-planning for the Dutch football season opener. It was also enlightening to a suburban kid who grew up rarely seeing animals outside of a zoo.
“I was helping them walk pigs,” Mayhew said, an activity that seldom popped up as a summer-evening option back on the streets of his Aurora neighborhood. “I would feed the pigs most of the morning and help with all the different stuff that they needed for each pig. They were even doing individual pig meal plans, which I’d never seen before. I helped wash steers and put steers in the cooler (to accelerate) hair growth. I helped when Colton was trying to halter train some of his calves and I was there for a calf birth, which was something completely new to me.”
Mayhew spent more time on hair grooming than an anxious teen before a first date.
“We wash calves every day in the morning and sometimes at night, too, if it’s hot,” Anderson said. “We blow their hair out and condition it and all that good stuff.”
But walking the pigs was especially intriguing to Mayhew.
“Right before dark, when it’s cool, we’d walk the hogs outside, just to get them the exercise and get their endurance up,” Anderson said. “(Joshua) thought that was the neatest thing ever. He enjoyed walking hogs at night.”
During steamy summer afternoons, between hammer swings and bale lifts, the duo’s conversation frequently drifted away from farm chores to the fate of the pending football season threatened by the virus.
“Joshua and I, we talked about it nearly every day,” Anderson said. “You watched the news and saw what was going on.”
Anderson braced himself when he received sudden notice of an early August team Zoom meeting where the Dutch learned their fall season was officially postponed.
“I knew as soon as I got that email that we weren’t going to have a season,” he said. “Was I shocked? No. Was it kind of a bummer? Yes. It’s miserable but you just have to take it with a grain of salt and move on.”
But the physical summer left Anderson and Mayhew in game shape when practices resumed in the fall. The Dutch are tentatively eyeing a three to five-game schedule in the spring, but so far, having largely dodged COVID-19, the team’s virus-averse fall practices are heavy on skill development and light on contact. There’s an upside to that.
“I think it was a really good thing for the freshmen since we didn’t have a full camp,” Anderson said. “We had three weeks of just helmets on (but no pads), so we had time to focus on technique and learning plays.”
Offensive line play involves more than knocking down the other guy.
“A lot of people, especially freshmen, come in thinking that all they need to worry about is the physical game,” Mayhew said. “There’s so much more of the mental game and footwork in the offensive line that people don’t realize. It’s a real positive to have the offensive line coaches kind of put a microscope on everything before we even put pads on.”
Yet the Dutch know in an era of uncertainty that they could be preparing for a spring season that doesn’t happen.
“I try not to worry about it too much,” Anderson said. “I mean, anything could happen. If we can play, great. It would be different, but you know, you have to adapt to it and everything will work out.”
But Central’s championship dreams have only been delayed, not denied. The Dutch are already eyeing next fall in what they hope will be a virus-free world.
“I’d like to play in the spring just to play against other people but, yeah, the main focus for me is to play next season and hoping we actually have a full season next year when all this clears up and we’re ready to rock and roll,” Anderson said.
Mayhew, who is pursuing a secondary education degree in social science, intends to graduate in the spring but return for a full season in the fall before heading to graduate school. He’s among many looking to take advantage of the NCAA’s offer for an additional year of eligibility. Enthusiasm still runs high after the Dutch shared a record 31st conference championship last fall, then made a 21st NCAA Division III playoff appearance, stunning the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a 24-point second-half comeback in a 38-37 overtime victory before a season-ending second-round loss at Wheaton College (Ill.). Mayhew said the team has unfinished business.
“I think we have a majority of my senior class that will be coming back,” he said. “It was a lot of work to get where we were last year and a lot of people to get the ball rolling to where we ended up at Wheaton and I want the ball to roll farther than that. And I want to be a part of it.”
He’s convinced that delaying his departure from Central is worth the sacrifice.
“My teammates and I are going to do everything in our power to be successful,” Mayhew said. “No matter what happens, it’s going to be four or five more months with some of my best friends.”
That time with teammates means even more to Mayhew than what numbers flash on the scoreboard at the end of a game.
“We're just one big family,” he said.
And each member leaves any selfish ambitions behind before pulling on the familiar white helmet with the red C.
“We call it being a real Central guy, being team-first, sacrificing everyone's individual time, effort, energy to do what we need to do for each other,” Mayhew said. “And I've never been a part of anything like it. And I'm giving up a lot to be a part of it. But I think that that team-first, family-first mentality is what makes us great. The coaches are the same way, like Coach (Eric) Jones or Coach (Ryan) Maiuri or Coach (Jeff) McMartin would each sacrifice a lot just for us. I felt that even when I was being recruited.”
But Mayhew also cherishes his pandemic summer, when he gave up six-lane highways and strip malls for a few sweat-stained months of life along quiet Iowa gravel roads.
“It was a great time,” Mayhew said. “It was something completely unique that I never would have experienced somewhere else.”