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IOWA CITY — With eight specialists in Iowa’s fall football camp, it’s probably time for some proper introductions.
You have four kickers. Sophomore Miguel Recinos was the tall kid (6-1) who followed Marshall Koehn around last season. Sophomore Mick Ellis took a redshirt last season after going 0-for-1 on field goals as a true freshman in 2014.
Keith Duncan and Caleb Shudak are walk-on freshmen. Duncan was an all-state kicker for Weddington High School in Matthews, N.C., as a senior last year, hitting 22 of 29 field goals. And, yes, flip his name around and it’s Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith.
During Iowa’s open scrimmage last weekend, Shudak wore No. 94 and, at least for that day on Twitter, earned the nickname “mini-Clayborn,” after former Iowa D-lineman Adrian Clayborn, who also wore No. 94.
If you’re keeping score, that is four kickers.
“We’re going to have to make some early decisions,” said assistant coach Chris White, who’s in charge of specialists. “I don’t know if we can really do four for a long time.”
There are only two punters — redshirt freshman Colten Rastetter and senior Ron Coluzzi — and you’ll be seeing them for the first time when Iowa opens the season against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 3. Well, you’ll probably be seeing one of them. Or maybe both. Who knows?
You already know long snapper Tyler Kluver, a junior who’ll be in his third year as starter and who earned a scholarship this fall.
The first point is the obvious. Yes, a practice repetition for the kickers and punters, especially the kickers, is going to be worth its weight in gold doubloons.
For the kickers, at least early in camp, there were fewer chances for an extended display of reps, but there were more situational opportunities to kick. Head coach Kirk Ferentz would say the word, unbeknown to kickers, and it would be time for field goals. Ready, set, go.
“Every rep is import,” Ellis said. “The fewer reps you have, the better you have to do to show the coaches what you’ve got. With three guys competing along with me, there’s a lot of pressure on each kick.”
And that’s the whole point. Every kick is recorded, including distance, where it’s attempted on the field and, probably, weather conditions. White called Recinos and Ellis “Division I legs” and they are the first-teamers. So, let’s say the numbers end up roughly equal, how will they differentiate?
“That’s actually a really good question,” said Recinos, who hit two extra points as Koehn’s backup last season.
“If you guys have any hints, feel free to let me know,” Ellis said.
Let’s try asking the coach how he might gauge nerve.
“That’s a million dollar question,” White said. “You can’t put them in situations like with Marshall and a last-second field goal (Koehn made a memorable 57-yarder on the final play to beat Pitt last fall). The other thing, when you miss a field goal, how do you handle that?”
During spring practice, Ferentz put the kickers in as many pressure situations as possible, sudden changes or times when they maybe weren’t expecting an opportunity for a field goal.
Recinos and Ellis finished 6 of 8 during Iowa’s open scrimmage on Aug. 13. Recinos missed his first two attempts, but finished 6 of 6, including 44- and 46-yarders into a decent breeze at the end of practice. Ellis hit his first six and missed those same two attempts into the wind.
After the scrimmage, Ferentz said all four would continue to receive the same amount of reps and then Aug. 19 the field would be narrowed.
“Today was a really good day,” Ferentz said after the scrimmage. “Maybe it hasn’t looked as good in practice, but today was a really good day for them.”
The punters weren’t on display during the scrimmage. When asked in postgame, Ferentz offered a positive review.
“Pretty good, actually. I’m a little afraid to say that,” Ferentz said. “Colten continues to show really good potential. Consistency is his challenge. This is the first time we’ve been on the field with Ron Coluzzi, and he acts like an older guy. He’s been through the wars and understands the ups and downs a little bit.”
Rastetter took a redshirt last year and has yet to attempt a punt in college. Coluzzi is a graduate transfer from Central Michigan. As a junior last season, Coluzzi had 59 punts with an average of 39.1 yards an attempt. He also kicked off 64 times with 21 touchbacks.
Consistency perhaps will be the major differentiator between these two, maybe even ahead of operational time, hang time and distance.
“I don’t think Colten is one of those guys who’s been a punter throughout his life,” White said. “These guys go to all of these kicking camps and all of that, so he’s just trying to figure out the mechanics of it, how to change things, how to make things right. He has a Division I leg, it’s just not consistent enough at this point. He knows that and he has 25 practices to figure it out.”
Coluzzi talked “operational time,” which is the amount of time it takes to punt the ball. He’s happy with hang time in the 4.7-second range. And, he said, any punt more than 42 yards is icing on the cake.
And then he said the thing that made him sound like the fifth-year senior who kind of fell in Iowa’s lap last winter when the Hawkeyes had zero punters on the roster with any punts ever anywhere.
“You guys are making it sound like there’s a lot more science to it, and there is,” he said, “but at the end of the day, I’m just punting a ball. You kick it as high as you can and as far as you can every single time. As a specialist, you can’t think. That’s one thing I’ve learned.”
So, is this graduate transfer from Central Michigan manna from heaven? Exactly what Iowa’s special teams needed?
“Well, hopefully, yeah,” White said. “So far, so good.”
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