IOWA CITY — You assume you know who Iowa’s kicker is going to be.
It just has to be the guy who kicked so well as a true freshman in 2016. The guy who made 38 of 39 extra points and 9 of 11 field goals, including the clutch one on the final play that beat third-ranked Michigan.
But with under two weeks left until the season opener against Miami (Ohio), there has been no public proclamation from the coaching staff that Keith Duncan is the man. And he’s more than OK with that.
“I think that’s a good thing,” Duncan said at Iowa’s recent media day. “At Iowa, there is always competition. They pride themselves on that competition. It’s awesome to get here and (know that) everyone has a fair shot. The best kicker should win, that’s just kind of how it is. No politics or anything involved. So let’s go out there, have fun and kick. I’m not worrying about ‘Do I need to do this differently? Do I need to do this differently?’ Just go out and kick. Do what you’ve been training for.”
Duncan and fellow junior Caleb Shudak are battling for top kicker honors. Shudak’s playing experience consists of one extra-point attempt (which was successful) in a blowout win last season at Illinois.
Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz has said there could be a scenario where both guys have roles. We’ll have to see.
Duncan certainly isn’t taking anything for granted. Despite performing in 2016, he was beaten out by Miguel Recinos the next two seasons.
He redshirted in 2017 and just didn’t play last season.
“I wasn’t really focused on where I was depth chart wise,” Duncan said. “I was really just focused on improving my game. There could be, like, a misconception that ‘Oh, you started this year, then you fell off. What happened?’ But it was a really good learning experience for me, and I grew tremendously as a kicker. Freshman year, I didn’t hit the ball perfectly like I wanted to. My leg strength wasn’t there. I think going into sophomore year, it was a big jump. I got into the weight room, focused on that.
“It was just awesome learning from Miguel. He was an older guy, he knew how the program ran. It was just awesome learning from him and just learning from outside.”
The North Carolina native said his leg strength has increased in his two years off. He feels both he and Shudak have field-goal capabilities up to 55 yards or so.
Asked how kickers go about expanding their range, Duncan said it’s about specific weight training.
“Most people would think it is squat, squat, squat, but it’s not really about that. It’s mainly explosion,” he said. “You get your power through your hips and your plant leg. So working in the weight room with Coach (Chris) Doyle, we do a lot of cleans, which is an explosive movement. A lot of other single-leg jumps, weighted jumps, weighted runs. All of that stuff is explosive. Everything we do is explosive. There is no way you shouldn’t gain leg strength with the way we eat and the way we train.”
“(Kicking is) kind of related to golf a little bit,” special teams coach LeVar Woods said. “The good players will tell you they have a checklist of things they go through. Not so much focusing on ‘Oh, I’ve got to make this. I have to make this kick. I have to make this snap.’ It’s more so a mental checklist that they go through. Just relax, and let it go. Certainly the mental aspect is a huge part of it.”
Duncan said despite both wanting top kicker duties, he and Shudak are good friends who play golf and ping-pong together. He said all of the special-teams guys (kickers, punters, long snappers) have good relationships with each other and Woods.
He kiddingly accused Woods of shaving a couple of strokes off his actual score during a special teams golf outing right before fall practice began.
“We have a really close-knit group of guys in the special teams room,” Duncan said. “I think when I first got here, we had 13 or 14 guys, and now it’s eight or nine. We’re all really good friends, we all hang out outside of football. I’ve said it before, once you realize competition will make you better, then you can increase your game. There’s no reason to heckle against each other, wish something bad upon each other. Because you will both go in the right direction, and it will help the team eventually.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Iowa also has an ongoing punting competition between incumbent Colton Rastetter and newcomer Michael Sleep-Dalton, an Australian graduate transfer from Arizona State. Ihmir Smith-Marsette had a strong 2018 as the Hawkeyes’ top kickoff returner, though a new punt returner must be found.
l Comments: (319) 398-8259; firstname.lastname@example.org