Citrus Bowl a homecoming for Iowa defensive back Dane Belton

Dane Belton is returning to his home state of Florida for Iowa’s Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl matchup with Kentucky.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa defensive back Dane Belton reads the Indiana offense during a football game between No. 18 Iowa and No. 17 Indiana at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 34-6. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan)

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Dane Belton has been on the precipice of playing a game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, multiple times in the last eight years.

The junior defensive back for the Hawkeyes grew up in Tampa, Florida, just 90 miles from the venue. The trip from Jesuit High School — Belton’s alma mater — to Camping World Stadium is one hour and 30 minutes. Camping World Stadium hosted the Florida State High School Football Championship Game when Belton was at Jesuit.

During Belton’s tenure with the Tigers, he almost got to make the 90-minute trip from Tampa to Orlando for the state championship game on three occasions. The Tigers were eliminated from the playoffs in the semifinal round three times in Belton’s four years at Jesuit. So, he never got his shot to play at Camping World Stadium — until now.

Belton will finally get his chance to play at Camping World Stadium as No. 15 Iowa takes on No. 22 Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.

“It’s a great opportunity, being able to play anywhere close to home,” Belton said of Iowa’s upcoming appearance in Florida. “[Tampa] is like an hour and a half from Orlando, very close. I definitely have been getting hit up [for tickets]. My mom talked to me about it . . .  She was just talking about how a lot of people are trying to come, so be ready for that.

“We’ll handle that when the time comes.”

Belton led the Big Ten Conference with five interceptions this season. His teammate, senior cornerback and Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Riley Moss, ranked second in the league with four picks.

Iowa’s defense led the nation with 24 interceptions in 13 games this year.

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“We’ve always known that [Dane] has some type of greatness in him,” Danny Belton said of his son. “It’s one of those things where it’s manifesting itself last year and this year. We’re actually seeing the fruits of his labor.”

Statistically, 2021 has been Dane’s best season as a Hawkeye. He’s recorded 43 tackles along with his five interceptions. He’s also registered three tackles for loss and 12 pass deflections.

Before the 2021 season began, Pro Football Network projected Dane to be a fifth-round draft pick. Now, nearly five months later, he might have a chance to achieve his dream and play in the National Football League.

“It was his dream since he was in high school,” Danny said. “But once he started getting close, he realized it could be more of a reality than just a dream . . . Once he got to his freshman year, he was like, ‘Dad, remember that dream? It’s going to be a reality.’ He told me that, straight up, just like that.

“He was like, ‘I don’t know when or where,’” Danny added. “‘It may be a matter of time, but that’s what it’s gonna be because I can feel it when I go to practices, when [coaches] instruct me, when they yell at me for messing up a play or whatever.’”

Danny added that his son is on the fence about turning pro or coming back to the UI for the 2022 season.

Dane has tabled any decision-making he’ll need to do — for now. And while he is interested in undergoing the NFL evaluation process, he’ll compete in the Citrus Bowl before he proceeds any further.

“To be honest, I haven’t really given it much thought,” Dane said of the NFL Draft evaluation process. “I was just focused on the season. If I have an opportunity to see the evaluation, I might explore that. It can’t hurt. At the end of the day, my focus is on this last game we have together as a team. That’s just what I’m thinking right now.

“That time will come,” Dane added. “There’s a time and place for everything. I feel like, right now, we have a great opportunity at our hands, and to capitalize on that is what my mind is on.”

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