116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras’ mother brought a cake for his birthday, it was a nice treat for many people.
But not Ryan Gersonde.
“I was like, ‘Ryan, do you want a piece of cake?’ Petras said. “He was like, ‘I’m good, I like chips.’”
When his roommates go somewhere for ice cream, the senior holder still prefers chips — Tostitos with a hint of lime and Doritos are his favorites.
“If he could live off chips, I think he would,” Petras said.
Just like his choice of Tostitos over birthday cake and ice cream, Gersonde’s role on the Hawkeyes — and the path to get there — has been a tad unconventional.
Gersonde came to Iowa in 2017 after being a high school All-America punter. He put up respectable numbers in three games as a true freshman, averaging 42.5 yards per punt.
Hawkeyes fans got a taste of what Gersonde could be in his game against Northwestern that year. He had five punts, four of which went for 50-plus yards and one of which pinned the Wildcats inside their 20-yard-line. His longest punt was 61 yards.
But then Gersonde’s fortunes changed. He redshirted in 2018 and then had a “freak, out-of-nowhere accident” during a workout in 2019. Gersonde “just made a cut, and boom,” he tore his ACL.
“It was definitely a big blow,” Gersonde said. “Not a lot of punters end up tearing their ACLs.”
He missed the 2019 season and, by 2020, Tory Taylor arrived on campus and beat him out for the starting punter spot. Gersonde instead got the starting holder spot.
“He’s adapted great,” said Petras, one of Gersonde’s roommates. “He’s done a great job of knowing his role and executing his role, and there’s not many guys that are as energetic or cheer their teammates on like Ryan on the sidelines.”
‘Quietly, he’s done a very, very good job in his role’
Gersonde’s response to that adversity did not surprise his high school coach, Jeff Mazurczak, who repeatedly described his former kicker and punter as “unflappable.”
“If he had a bad punt in practice or a bad kick or something like that, he wouldn’t let it affect the next one,” said Mazurczak, the former coach at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. “That’s what was really unique about him. … He was really a joy to coach.”
Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods also has taken notice of Gersonde’s unflappable character.
“In our room — the specialists’ room — the one stabilizing force has been Ryan,” Woods said. “Quietly, he’s done a very, very good job in his role.”
Gersonde has helped Taylor become one of the best punters in the conference.
“(Gersonde) has a really good sense as an older guy, more mature guy,” Woods said. “He helps Tory a lot in figuring out which ball he should hit, what’s the wind and which way the pattern is going.”
Gersonde said the two “work really well together” because of how open they both are to criticism.
“We’re both not afraid to critique each other,” Gersonde said. “Even though we play the same position, we’re not going to get grumpy or offended critiquing each other.”
The two Australians are good friends, too.
“We kind of have similar interests because we grew up in the same way,” Gersonde said, including their love of the Australian food staple vegemite.
“Every Friday, Graze brings in vegemite on toast, and it’s literally just me and him that eat it together,” Gersonde said.
The backup punter has one of Taylor’s “Punting is winning” T-shirts from Raygun, too.
“I’m so happy for his success and everything that he’s doing,” Gersonde said.
Becoming an elite holder
Meanwhile, Iowa’s last two kickers — Keith Duncan and Caleb Shudak — have gotten a front-row seat to Gersonde’s holding skills.
“Maybe his role is a little bit different from what he expected, but he is a phenomenal, phenomenal teammate,” Duncan said.
As Duncan hit 14 of 15 field goals from inside 50 yards in 2020, Gersonde “helped out a ton” from the holder position.
“He may see something that we may not see,” Duncan said. “I’d like to say he’s the best caddy in the world.”
If he does his job well, “no one notices you,” Gersonde said.
A good hold isn’t as easy as it looks.
“From snap to kick, we’re trying to get the ball off in 1.33 seconds, 1.35 seconds,” Duncan said. “So he has less than a second to locate where the laces are, catch it and then spin it and have the correct tilt and the correct spot.”
The correct spot is like “trying to place the ball right on a quarter,” Duncan said.
“It’s an extremely hard job,” Duncan said. “People think it’s just, ‘Catch it and put it down on the ground.’ A lot more goes into that with ball pressure, different ball tilt with different wind patterns. It’s kind of like a science.”
Mazurczak said Gersonde “might have done a little bit of holding” at Marquette High, but it was mostly a new science for him when he stepped foot in Iowa City.
“I feel like it came pretty naturally, but (former punter Colten Rastetter) definitely helped me out a lot,” Gersonde said. “Watching him really helped me perfect my craft.”
He already had practice adapting to unusual snaps as a punter.
“I can remember him in one game going up with one hand and pulling down a super-high snap and being able to get the kick off,” Mazurczak said.
Shudak, one of the few specialists to be at Iowa longer than Gersonde, saw Gersonde get “so much better” at holding as he worked more at it.
From Australia to America
Gersonde, who moved from Australia to Milwaukee when he was 14, also had to do some catching up on American history to understand some of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s references.
Ferentz brought up Betsy Ross in a team meeting, but Gersonde didn’t learn about her creating the American flag while in Australia.
“We crossed paths right after, and he asked me who she was, and I was like, ‘Coach, to be honest, I have no idea who that is,’” Gersonde said.
He later Googled it and told Ferentz “we’re all good.”
About four hours away from Iowa City, Mazurczak remembers Gersonde spending his summers in high school at Marquette High’s practice field.
Sometimes he’d find someone to shag balls for him. Sometimes he didn’t.
“He’d punt 10 balls down to one end of the field,” Mazurczak said. “Then he’d go get them and punt them all back. He had a full-on regimen.”
Mazurczak is confident Gersonde "is going to be successful in whatever he does” after football.
Gersonde might want to cross mechanic off that list, though, if he hasn’t already.
While an underclassman, he noticed the brakes on his moped squeaking, so he put WD-40 on them.
Adding lubricant to his brakes didn’t go so well. Gersonde was driving with Petras seated behind him as they went down the hill near Pedersen Hall.
“I’m grabbing the brakes, I’m like screaming, ‘Spence, Spence, we got no brakes!’” Gersonde said. “Luckily, no one got hurt.”
They put their feet down to slow down the moped, and there wasn’t any oncoming traffic, so Gersonde’s gaffe simply came at the cost of needing new brakes and having an angry friend behind him.
“He was definitely mad at me for a little bit, but he didn’t have a moped at the time and a way of getting around, so he was kind of forced to keep riding with me,” Gersonde said.
Now, it’s a “fun memory,” Gersonde said. Petras called Gersonde “one of his best friends.”
Even with that friendship, Petras doesn’t get to hear Gersonde’s Australian accent very often.
“He only does it when provoked,” Petras said. “If I really nag on him to do it, he’ll do it.”
He saves the accent for another group of people, as Mazurczak figured out.
“I said, ‘There are times when you seem to turn that (accent) on even more,’” Mazurczak said. “He goes, ‘Oh yeah, the girls like it.’”
Gersonde confirmed it.
“I can’t believe he’s just throwing me under the bus with this one, but yeah, I definitely do that,” Gersonde said. “It’s definitely a nice little party trick. … I’m not going to lie.”
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