116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — As Tory Taylor stood at the podium in the media interview room in the bowels of the southwest corner of Kinnick Stadium after Iowa’s 7-3 win last week, he knew he made some history.
“Just broke a new personal record for punts in a game, so probably not the best thing,” Taylor said after a game where he received some “MVP” chants.
While “MVP” chants for a punter are unconventional, it’s been fitting for the Australian in the first month of his third season of college football.
Taylor’s 10 punts against South Dakota State included seven inside the 20. Six of them were inside the 12. Two of them set up Iowa’s defense for a safety. He finished with an average distance of 47.9 yards.
His success amid an otherwise-frustrating day for Hawkeye fans prompted some prominent Iowa fan accounts on Twitter to tweet, “Tory Taylor for Heisman.”
He’s not one to get caught up in the hype around him, quickly downplaying the “MVP” chants on Saturday. When asked to rate his Week 1 performance on a scale of one to 10, he only gave it a 7.5.
“I know a lot of guys probably won’t believe me, but of those 10 punts, I really only probably liked like three or four of them,” Taylor said Tuesday.
Taylor’s success is not new to 2022.
He averaged 44.1 yards per punt as a freshman and earned freshman All-America first-team honors from the Football Writers Association of America. Then as a sophomore, he averaged 46.1 yards per punt.
But if he keeps doing what he did against the Jackrabbits in 2022, it would mark another significant step forward in his development.
It helped that Taylor could spend time with his Australian coaches during his first trip back home since arriving at Iowa.
“I really worked on my traditional spiral punt from the pocket,” Taylor said. “Worked really hard, seeing them three or four times a week while I was back there, so that really gave me a lot of confidence.”
Former Iowa punter/holder Ryan Gersonde has had a front-row seat to Taylor’s growth at Iowa, as the second-team punter in 2020 and 2021.
When Taylor arrived on campus, it didn’t take long for Gersonde to realize that he wasn’t an average punter.
“Honestly, it was the first time I punted with him,” Gersonde said.
Gersonde and kicker Keith Duncan looked at each other and “saw it right away.”
“This dude’s got it,” Gersonde said. “He’s a baller.”
Iowa preaches the need for second-teamers to always be ready, but the closest Gersonde came to relieving Taylor was perhaps in the second half of the Citrus Bowl when Taylor needed to, well, relieve himself.
“We planned it that it would have been the safest time for him to go to the bathroom,” Gersonde said. “Sometimes you gotta go.”
Taylor already has the single-season record for punting yards in a season with 3,688 in 2021. His 10 punts Saturday were off the Iowa record for punts in a game, which is 16.
Nile Kinnick set that record in 1939, when scoring wasn’t so prevalent. Iowa won that game, 7-6, against Notre Dame. The year before, Iowa had a 0-0 tie against Purdue.
Gersonde, who still lives with former teammates including quarterback Spencer Petras, would rather not see “one of my best friends” need to take 16 punts.
“If he does get it, those 16 punts are going to be all bombs or placed inside the 10,” Gersonde said.
Taylor has assembled his impressive punting resume while facing some adversity.
Between COVID-19-induced travel restrictions and the football schedule, he has only been back home once since arriving at Iowa. He’s almost 10,000 miles and 15 time zones away from his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
Saturday’s Cy-Hawk game will be the first time his family will see him play in person.
“It’s hard to imagine,” special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said in the spring. “I’ve never been a foreigner, going to live in a foreign country, leaving my family for multiple years. … He’s handled it extremely well.”
Gersonde, who used to room with Taylor, said he is “never one to complain” about it.
“He’s had to make a lot of sacrifices,” Gersonde said, “and that’s very impressive and very mature.”
On the field, Taylor also has overcome the challenge of picking up on some of the nuanced rules of American college football.
“It’s a complicated game in itself,” Taylor said. “I really just try to simplify it as much as I can. And to be brutally honest, I just catch the ball and kick it, so that’s just what I try and focus on.”
Once, he learned about the rules the hard way. Taylor received a low snap in Iowa’s 2020 game against Wisconsin. The ball brushed his fingertips, hit his foot and then rolled on the ground.
He tried punting the ball off the turf, only to discover it was a penalty. It was an impressive kick, though.
“That was one of the craziest plays I think I’ve ever seen,” Gersonde said. “I was like, ‘Holy crap, like he just hit a 40-yard punt off the ground.’”
Taylor hasn’t had any illegal kicks since then, but he still feels his knowledge of American football hasn’t come “very far.”
When a punter at South Carolina State ran past the line of scrimmage and then punted the ball against UCF last week — a 5-yard penalty and turnover on downs — Taylor didn’t realize it was illegal.
“Oh my gosh, s---, I would have done that,” Taylor thought as he saw that. “I’m glad it hasn’t happened to me. Someone was the guinea pig and done it before me.”
Taylor thinks his family members have a “pretty good understanding” of the game they watch their son play every week, but he’s sure his grandparents “will have a lot of questions to ask when they get here.”
“I’ve got a feeling they just kind of watch and wait for me to go out there and punt,” Taylor said.
Now they’ll have a chance to see him punt in person, but Taylor hopes not too many times.
“I’m sure that deep down, they’re hoping that I’m out there a fair bit so they can watch me, but also they probably don’t want me out there too much because we want to win,” Taylor said. “I’m kind of in the same boat.”
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