116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Caleb Shudak came to a media interview session Tuesday morning wearing an Iowa football strength and conditioning T-shirt.
The sixth-year senior kicker is 5-foot-8, and listed at 178 pounds, which makes him the shortest and lightest member of the Hawkeyes.
“I was like 155 pounds when I got here,” Shudak said. He credited the strength coaches for helping him with health, speed, size and strength.
“Being able to kick a ball 70 yards when you’re 5-8 is not as easy as people think,” he said, unintentionally getting laughs from sports reporters who didn’t assume it’s the least bit routine.
Shudak has been big and strong and powerful for his team. His 4-of-4 field goal performance at Nebraska Friday capped his superb regular season and earned him the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week award.
The season totals speak for themselves, and speak well. Shudak has made 22 of 25 field goals. Thirty-nine of his 67 kickoffs were touchbacks, and Iowa’s opponents have averaged a mere 17.3 yards on the kicks they did return.
You’d take that from your kicker, oh, a thousand seasons out of a thousand.
Current and former teammates expressed public criticism about Shudak not being among the three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the college game’s top kicker. Iowa punter Tory Taylor, a big foot himself, didn’t like it and said so. Former Iowa Groza finalist Keith Duncan added to that chorus.
“Maybe a little disappointed he wasn't in as a Groza finalist,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
Finalist Noah Ruggles of Ohio State is 18-of-19, but has made no field goal longer than 46 yards. Just 21 of his 92 kickoffs were touchbacks, and he made but four field goals of 40-plus yards.
Oklahoma’s Gabe Brkic is 18-of-24, but is 5-of-7 from 50-plus yards. However, Shudak is 4-of-6 from that far, and one of the misses was from 57.
The other Groza finalist is Michigan’s Jake Moody, Shudak’s counterpart Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game. Tuesday, Moody was named the Big Ten’s Kicker of the Year. Shudak and Ruggles tied for the second-team spot.
Moody is 22-of-24, but only six of the attempts was 40 yards or longer, and just one was from 50-plus. Look, he’s terrific. So are Ruggles and Brkic. Shudak expressed nothing resembling hard feelings about not making the final three for the Groza after he was among 20 semifinalists.
“I was kind of surprised when I was a semifinalist,” he said. “To be mentioned in the conversation with guys like Ruggles, Moody, even Nick Skiba (of Wake Forest) and Brkic — those guys are incredibly good. I’m very honored to be mentioned in that conversation.”
Field goals make or break kickers’ legacies. Kickoffs, though, go underappreciated. They’re a vital part of trying to control the game within the game, field position. Shudak has been reliably great at booming his.
“It’s huge,” Shudak said. “If you can get guys 2 or 3 yards deep or a 4.0 (seconds) hang time to the goal line, making them start questioning if they can take it out or not, it kind of puts more pressure on the returners’ hands.”
Since Moody has put 58 of his 88 kickoffs into the end zone, it might be the Night of the Touchback in Indianapolis’ indoor Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night when Michigan and Iowa play for the Big Ten title.
What may be interesting is how long a field goal Kirk Ferentz would let Shudak try should the situation present itself.
Without wind in the equation, what’s Shudak’s range on Saturday? “I’d like to say it’s close to 58, 60,” he said.
If he were to make a bomb to win the game, the smallest man on Iowa’s football team will be the biggest man on campus for the rest of the semester.
He said none of his teammates kid him about his size, but an occasional opposing player might.
“Even on campus,” Shudak said, “sometimes I’ll have a football backpack and (someone) will be like ‘Oh, you’re the manager?’ ”
It’s a good thing Shudak is bright and reasonable. Were he a hothead, he could have kicked that person into Coralville.
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