116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As fans gear up for their first taste of an in-person event at Kinnick Stadium since 2019, they can expect to see new, yet familiar faces assuming leadership roles for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
On Tuesday, sophomore punter Tory Taylor, junior wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr., senior punt returner and wide receiver Charlie Jones and senior receiver Max Cooper addressed the media on what to expect out of a team with key vacancies to fill and strengths to build on.
Tory Taylor aims for the perfect spiral
Taylor, from Melbourne, Australia, was merely learning the game of American football in 2020 when he earned the Eddleman-Fields Big Ten Conference Punter of the Year award. The freshman averaged 44.1 yards per punt, nailing 18 out of 40 punts inside the opposing 20-yard line and nine inside the 10. He finished third in the Big Ten and No. 20 nationally in punting average.
But as a sophomore, Taylor’s focus is on one statistic: the one spiral punt.
“I try to write every point down: what I do well, or what I need to improve on,” Taylor said. “I only had the one spiral punt against Penn State. I think it went 47 yards or so, but got a lucky bounce.”
A spiral punt travels farther and higher than others, which is key if Taylor wants to improve his distance and accuracy. But he’s come a long way since the first game, which he thinks about a lot.
“I said as long as I don’t get one backed up in the end zone, I’ll be OK,” Taylor said. “Of course, the first one was backed up in the end zone and I’m a big believer in: you’re going to have to do it, so what’s the point of worrying about it? So I just went out there and kicked the ball as far and as high as I could and I’m lucky enough Terry Roberts was down there to ensure it was fair caught.”
New leadership taking shape
The departure of star wide receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith has left two key spots open to a possible 16 wide receivers listed on the roster.
Seniors Jones and Cooper are hoping their experience pays dividends.
Jones, a transfer from Buffalo in 2019 and a 2020 first-team All-Big Ten punt returner for the Hawkeyes, earned scholarship status in December and is hoping to see more reps at wide receiver.
Cooper, who missed last season due to injury, said it was an easy decision to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility to have his shot at making a lasting impact. He was the team’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2019.
Tracy has also learned that patience is valuable while waiting in the wings behind Smith-Marsette and Smith.
After a 2019 season where he tallied 36 receptions for 589 yards, Tracy had 14 receptions for 154 yards in 2020. On Tuesday, Tracy emphasized that he learned he has to do what makes the team better.
But he wasn’t hesitant to mention that he believes this will be his year to stand at the forefront of a receivers group that is growing in skill at Iowa.
“I'm next, that's my mindset right now,” Tracy Jr. said. “When they do get drafted, I'll be the biggest Ihmir & B-Smith fan out there."
In addition, all three receivers commended junior quarterback Spencer Petras, who they say after one year of experience, is making improvements.
“Y’all can remember Spencer wasn’t super accurate last fall, but now he’s putting the balls on the money,” Tracy Jr. said. “He’s always been a great leader, but right now it seems like he has a lot more respect now that he’s been on the field for a year.”
Fans are back this fall
Taylor has yet to play in front of a true Big Ten crowd, and he’s ready for it.
“A couple years ago, I heard playing in front of like a Big Ten crowd is absolutely incredible,” Taylor said. “So, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm not really nervous about it. But yeah, ask me on the day to be honest.”
Playing in front of fans was something Cooper said played a role in motivating him to return for his extra season after a year of injury.
“It’s definitely a year I want to come back and give it my all knowing that this year I get to play in front of fans, hopefully,” Cooper said.
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