IOWA CITY — College football games of great importance to so many, decided by college kids who play Rock Paper Scissors on the field?
“We started doing that after every field goal,” said Iowa holder Colten Rastetter. “It just kind of takes your mind off the kick. That way he can start his routine on his next kick and not dwell on that last kick.”
“He” is Hawkeye junior Keith Duncan, last week’s Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week after Iowa’s 18-17 win at Iowa State.
“We high-five, then we play one round of Rock Paper Scissors, we high-five our other teammates, and then we’re back on the sidelines,” Rastetter said.
“We kind of keep it fun,” said Duncan. “We know football’s very stressful, especially for specialists. You have to go out there and perform. You never know if it’s one rep or 10 reps in a game. It’s just us being loose and having fun.”
Rastetter had a good day of Rock Paper Scissors at Iowa State after losing over the first two weeks. He and Duncan are now tied at two wins each, with four ties.
Duncan got the wins that mattered. He scored the game’s final points with 4:51 left, and made a field goal in every quarter. The final three were from 40, 42 and 39 yards. No chip shots, those, especially on a wet turf.
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It brought Duncan full-circle. He had earned that same Big Ten honor in November 2016 when his last-second 33-yard field goal gave the Hawkeyes a 14-13 upset win over No. 3 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium.
On the Monday after that Michigan game, “A guy was walking across the Old Capitol crosswalk and he kept looking at me,” Duncan said. “I was like ‘What is he looking at?’ All of a sudden he said ‘Hey, good game.’ It was the first time I ever had anyone recognize me because we always have our helmets on.”
That was three years ago, when freshman Duncan made 9 of 11 field goals. But nothing was given. Miguel Recinos, who had been beaten out for the job by Duncan in 2016, claimed it the following season and kept it through last year, his senior season. He did a great job.
Duncan had gone from anonymous hero to anonymous anonymity. His response? Deal with it.
“Our goal as individuals on this team is to improve the team,” Duncan said. “I know if I had a bitter attitude toward not playing … it would not help our team at all. It would just take us down.”
He redshirted in 2017, and didn’t get in any games last season. Nothing was handed to him this summer, but he regained the starting job. Now he’s 8-for-8 in field goals through three games.
“It was very humbling,” said Duncan.
“It was a great learning experience sitting on the bench for those two years. Seeing the game from the sideline helped my mindset a lot.”
As a prep, Duncan was headed to Furman University in South Carolina before former Carolina Panthers kicker John Kasay told former Panthers punter Jason Baker about him. Duncan had made four field goals for Weddington High in a game against Charlotte Christian School, where Kasay is the athletics director.
Baker is a former Iowa punter. He told Iowa about Duncan. Hawkeyes assistant coach Seth Wallace listened, and called Duncan, but with no scholarship to offer. The tuition for an out-of-state student isn’t small.
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“My parents and grandparents have been a blessing helping me out a little bit with that,” Duncan said. “If they know I’m working my butt off every day to try to become a scholarship-level kicker, then they’re going to help me with that.
“(Now) I couldn’t imagine myself kicking anywhere else. I’ve said this multiple times: Iowa’s like a home now. I only get to go back to North Carolina twice (a year). This is where I live. I have an Iowa driver’s license now. So that’s pretty cool. I’d love to live here after football.”
Before this season’s over, maybe two or even three Hawkeye fans will recognize Duncan in public. Better yet, maybe the next Kinnick tradition will be fans doing Rock Paper Scissors every time Duncan makes a field goal.
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