116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Six years. Six doggone years.
That’s how long Caleb Shudak has waited for an opportunity to be a college football kicker.
“If you think about it, it has gone by really fast,” Shudak said. “I remember moving into the dorms with guys who have been my roommates for six years now. It just seems like yesterday to me. I remember waking up in the dorms and thinking ‘Oh, my God, I’m on my own. What am I going to do?’ It was, like, nerve-racking.”
Shudak is Iowa’s unquestioned extra-points and field-goals guy this season, taking over for the much-celebrated and ultra-clutch Keith Duncan. Those two battled it out for the starting kicking job back in 2019, with Duncan winning.
Hawkeyes fans know the rest. So do Nebraska fans.
Shudak was relegated to kickoff duties only, with the exception of one 52-yard attempt last season against Northwestern that plunked off the right upright.
“We had some tremendous growth through that competition. We have a lot of mutual respect and a friendship. It was a lot of fun,” Shudak said.
Waiting this long for his chance surely wasn’t fun. The former Council Bluffs Lewis Central prep walked on at Iowa way back in 2016 and redshirted.
He saw no game time in 2017 and kicked only once in 2018, making an extra point against Illinois. Then there was the battle with Duncan in 2019.
Anyone who watched pregame warm-ups the last two years could see there wasn’t much that separated the two. Shudak might actually have had a tad stronger leg.
Duncan moved on after last season and teaches kicking lessons in the Des Moines area. Shudak decided to take advantage of the NCAA rule allowing an additional year of eligibility for players because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I definitely considered that maybe I should hang up the cleats. Go in and try to find a job and get on with my career,” he said. “But I kept seeing all this improvement. My best friends all go to school here ... It got to the point where it was hard for me to want to leave that. I met some of the best, most amazing people here. I just wasn’t ready to give that up. My parents always kept telling me ‘Why try and rush out of this?’ It’s an amazing experience. I just haven’t been ready to give it up.”
Shudak’s father, Jeff, kicked at Iowa State from 1987 to 1990, making 58 career field goals. He passed on the love of the boot to his son.
Caleb had opportunities to kick at Iowa State and Iowa Western Community College back home in Council Bluffs, but chose Iowa because of its engineering school.
“My dad was instrumental in my development, introduced me to kicking. Kind of moved me along, prepared me indirectly for the mental aspects of, really, everything,” Shudak said. “He’s a great guy to call and say ‘Hey, I’m having a little problem here or there.’ He’ll take it step by step with me. He instilled the basics in me, and everything starts with the basics.”
Iowa’s special teams overall appear to be in good shape.
Australian Tory Taylor was a revelation as a true freshman punter in 2020. His rugby style produced a 44.1-yard average and 18 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, nine inside the 10.
Charlie Jones emerged as an all-Big Ten Conference punt returner, the former walk-on and transfer from Buffalo earning a scholarship in the offseason. Kickoff returns are a work in progress, with Ihmir Smith-Marsette moving on to the NFL and Minnesota Vikings.
Deep snapper Austin Spiewak will return for one more season after handling all of those duties last season for field goals, extra points and punts. He was granted a scholarship in the offseason as well.
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