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Iowa football 2023 winter position breakdown: Special teams
Hawkeyes trying to get Drew Stevens, Luke Elkin on scholarship ‘as soon as we can’
IOWA CITY — Iowa punter Tory Taylor ended the 2022 football season as the only specialist on the team on scholarship.
When the 2023 season begins, Iowa’s fan-favorite punter could be one of three specialists on scholarship.
Kicker Drew Stevens and long snapper Luke Elkin, after outstanding 2022 seasons, are in the conversation for scholarships as well.
“We’re going to do our best to get them on there as soon as we can,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said last week.
With Taylor, Stevens and Elkin all back in 2023, Iowa’s specialist room will have plenty of continuity and high expectations this season. Here’s an early look at the position:
Punter Nick Phelps and kicker Lucas Amaya, both walk-ons who never saw game action, are no longer with the Hawkeyes.
Phelps started his career at North Dakota State before enrolling at Iowa in 2019, but not as a football player. He joined the program as a walk-on in spring 2020.
Amaya arrived as a walk-on in 2019 and was third in what became a two-way kicking competition between Drew Stevens and Aaron Blom in 2022.
Wide receiver Arland Bruce IV, who handled most of Iowa’s punt returns in 2022, transferred to Oklahoma State. Running back Gavin Williams, who returned three kickoffs, transferred to Northern Illinois.
Stevens was one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the best kicker in college football, in 2022 despite being a true freshman.
Blom, who started the season at kicker before Stevens beat him out, also is expected to return and will be a junior.
Taylor is coming back for his senior season after averaging 45.4 yards per punt in 2022. Twenty-seven of his 82 punts went for 50-plus yards, and 38 of them landed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Fellow punter Max Hoskins, who joined the program in 2022 as a walk-on, is expected to return as well.
Elkin beat out a senior at long snapper during his true freshman season and has not relinquished the role since. Taylor and special teams coordinator LeVar Woods have frequently praised Elkin’s oft-overlooked contributions.
“(Taylor) is getting some really good snaps from Luke Elkin,” Woods said during the bye week. “Something that I think maybe as a younger coach I took for granted — the snapper position and how critical that is and how much it can help a punter.”
Liam Reardon, who will be a junior, is Iowa’s other long snapper on the 2023 roster. He has not yet seen game action.
Who’s joining the mix
Iowa did not sign any specialists as part of its 2023 recruiting class, which is not a surprise.
The 2024 recruiting class will be important for the Hawkeyes at punter because Taylor will be a senior next season. If Taylor uses his extra COVID-19 year of eligibility in 2024, he would then be trying to go pro at age 27.
Way-too-early projected two-deeps
Every player from Iowa’s pre-bowl depth chart is expected to return in 2023, so there are no surprises with this projection:
- Drew Stevens
- Aaron Blom
- Tory Taylor
- Max Hoskins
- Luke Elkin
- Liam Reardon
- Cooper DeJean
- Alec Wick
- Kaleb Johnson
- Xavier Nwankpa
Iowa’s special teams units have been among the best in the country under Woods’ direction, and 2023 should be no exception.
Taylor’s 45.4 yards per punt does not fully convey the impact he’s had as Iowa has flipped the field on its opponents despite lackadaisical offensive production.
Stevens, meanwhile, will have the benefit of another offseason with Iowa’s strength and conditioning staff after already showing his long-range potential as a freshman.
DeJean’s success late in the season returning punts means the one loss of a first-team special teams player might not be much of a loss to overcome.