Iowa Football

Iowa's Keith Duncan, Nick Niemann say Saturday will be their Kinnick Stadium farewell

Senior kicker, linebacker likely to move along, despite opportunity to return another for another season

Iowa place kicker Keith Duncan (3) attempts a field goal during the first half of an NCAA college football game against
Iowa place kicker Keith Duncan (3) attempts a field goal during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

A couple of guys admitted Tuesday they are likely moving on. A couple of guys remained noncommittal.

Senior Day will be unlike any other for the Iowa football team Saturday.

There will be very few people in the Kinnick Stadium stands as the Hawkeyes play Wisconsin (2:30 p.m., FS1). Parents won’t be allowed on the field to take part in the pregame ceremony honoring 22 seniors.

Then there’s not knowing exactly if any of those 22 will be doing the Senior Day thing all over again next year. The NCAA is allowing any player who chooses to come back for another season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So who’s in, who’s out? Who is making this their Kinnick farewell?

Keeping in mind, of course, Iowa could have another home game next week in the Big Ten Conference’s champions week.

“If we don’t have one next week, I think it will be,” said All-America kicker Keith Duncan. “It’s been great being an Iowa Hawkeye, have loved every single second of it. Wouldn’t trade it for the world. But, yeah, I think this will most likely be my last home game. It’s a very emotional thing to say, it’s been great being here. But I think it’s time to move on.”

Duncan started as a walk-on, beat Michigan with a field goal on the last play of the game as a true freshman in 2016, redshirted the following season, didn’t play at all in 2018 but won the kicking job last season and produced a historic, school record-setting season.

He hasn’t been quite as good, or quite as needed this season, but he’ll go down as one of the best kickers in Iowa history.

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“I could literally go through hundreds of my favorite memories,” Duncan said. “Just today in practice it started setting in that this could be our last week of practice. Especially with COVID, you never know how next week or possibly even this week is going to end up. It’s just the family atmosphere here (that) is incredible and something that I’ll miss a lot.”

Linebacker Nick Niemann also intimated this will be his Hawkeye swansong. He leads Iowa in tackles this season, and his father, Jay, is an assistant coach, but the next challenge awaits.

That’d be trying to make the National Football League, where his brother and former Hawkeye, Ben, is making a living.

“I think this will be it for me,” Nick Niemann said. “I’ve been here five years, and I just think it’s going to be in my best interest to move on and try to pursue the NFL after this season. That’s what it looks like right now, though I’m not totally sure. Just going to finish this season out, then see if I feel the same way. Still have time on that.”

It’s just assumed offensive tackle Alaric Jackson will move along, though he wasn’t asked his specific intentions Tuesday. Jackson is a very rare four-year starter up front who seriously contemplated entering the NFL Draft after last season.

You’d have to think cornerback Matt Hankins also will move along. He has 37 career games under his belt and would seem to be a NFL draftee.

He did not tip his hand Tuesday.

“Right now, I’m just focused on these last few games,” he said. “I haven’t really decided. But it’s nothing different, really. It’s a game, of course it’s a big game, a trophy game, has that significance.”

Ihmir Smith-Marsette would not reveal his intended plans when asked last week, as he and Brandon Smith are a pair of senior starting wide receivers, of course. Tight end Shaun Beyer said last week he hadn’t made a decision, yet.

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It’ll be very interesting to see what junior defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon decides to do. The smart money is on him turning pro, as he has had a marvelous season Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said wouldn’t surprise him to see end with all-America honors.

“I’m just approaching it as if it’s another game,” a noncommittal Nixon said. “As if it’s any other game.”

“Whenever the season ends, we’ll sit down and visit with guys,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “Looks like you’ve already done some homework for me. If you don’t mind sharing notes, that would be great. (But) I’ll still want to talk to them individually and get their feelings. It’s been a unique year. What hasn’t been different this year? Strictly up to them. We would welcome all of them back. There may be a few that will be interested. But I also know everybody has a clock.”

Quick slants

— Sophomore cornerback Julius Brents officially announced Tuesday on Twitter that he does intend to transfer to another school, not giving a reason why. Brents played quite a bit two years ago as a true freshman but redshirted because of injury last season.

He would seem to have been in line for a possible starting job next season, particularly if Hankins turns pro.

“He came in Sunday and told me his intentions,” Ferentz said. “We had a fairly thorough conversation. I asked him to sleep on it, come back the next day, just to make sure he was sure. But he had already given it pretty extensive thought, that was apparent. Long story short, I’m a little perplexed by his reasoning. To your point, the timing is a little bit interesting. That being said, I respect his honesty, his courage because that’s how he’s feeling right now. He’s going to follow his heart.

“I wish him nothing but the best, have nothing but respect for Julius. Tremendous person, a good guy to have on our team.”

Brents is the fifth player to enter the NCAA transfer portal since the season began, following running back Shadrick Byrd, linebacker Yahweh Jeudy, wide receiver Calvin Lockett Jr. and defensive back Daraun McKinney. All are Black, which gives you pause considering the turmoil Iowa underwent over the summer with the independent investigation of alleged, systemic racial disparity within the program and the dismissal of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, among other things.

While Iowa players have maintained all season, including Tuesday, the culture within the program has improved, Ferentz was asked if he was confident or not that the five transfers might be a race-related thing.

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“All I can do is share you with the conversations I had with them,” he said. “I’m not going to get into that full extent. (But) that’s one of the questions I asked each and every guy: Do you feel you weren’t being treated fairly, etc.? Everybody gave the proper answer. You have to go to the source to get the honest answer there.

“That was not the case with any of them. We (have) stayed in contact with the other four to make sure they’re following through, finishing their academic work here, so they can go wherever they choose to go. We’ve offered to help each and every one of them. All five guys are great guys. Got no issues with that. Wish them all the best as they move forward. At the end of the day, it’s a player’s choice to decide what they want to do.”

— Ferentz said Iowa looks pretty good from a health standpoint. He mentioned how starting offensive tackle Mark Kallenberger dressed for last week’s game against Illinois but only would have played in an emergency.

Kallenberger was hurt three weeks ago in the Penn State game.

— Ferentz began his Zoom press conference by congratulating former Hawkeye wrestling coach Dan Gable for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony Monday at the White House.

“Every time I get a chance to listen to him talk, it’s just a treat,” Ferentz said. “Basically what stands out is his love and focus mainly on his family and his athletes during his entire career. Boy, just talk about doing it at the highest level, he’s done that on both fronts. Really happy for him there.”

— Duncan has been named one of 67 FBS players nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to an outstanding player who initially was a walk-on. Iowa State’s Derek Schweiger and Nebraska’s Cade Warner (son of Cedar Rapids native and NFL Hall of Famer Kurt) also are among the nominees.

— Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker and Iowa State’s Tom Manning are finalists for the Frank Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in the country.

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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