Iowa Football

Keith Duncan set Iowa records for kicks and perseverance in 2019

It started with a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter of the first game. He went on to kick 28 more.

Iowa kicker Keith Duncan (3) takes a quiet moment during the action in the fourth quarter of this season's Cy-Hawk Serie
Iowa kicker Keith Duncan (3) takes a quiet moment during the action in the fourth quarter of this season’s Cy-Hawk Series football game at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Sept. 14. The Hawkeyes won the game, 18-17, on Duncan’s 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — This all started with a nondescript 21-yard field goal.

With 1:17 left in the first quarter of Iowa’s opener against Miami (Ohio), junior Keith Duncan kicked a 21-yard field goal. This gave the Hawkeyes a 3-0 lead over the RedHawks, who did end up winning the Mid-American Conference title for what it’s worth.

On the Tuesday going into the Miami game, it sure sounded like Kirk Ferentz wasn’t quite sure who the kicker might be. In fact, he probably didn’t know in that moment.

The margins in the camp competition between Duncan and Caleb Shudak were razor thin.

“That’s a really good question,” Ferentz said in the run-up to the opener. “We’re probably going to talk about that in about three hours here. They’re both really doing a good job. They both competed. It’s been neck and neck. And I looked at the stats the other day, you can almost flip a coin.

“So it might be fair to say we’ll let both guys play and see what happens. And they both did a good job this morning in practice, which is certainly encouraging. Caleb will be kicking off, though, I will go out on a limb and say that one.”

The next week against Rutgers, Duncan hit three field goals, including 46- and 43-yarders. At this point, you’re thinking maybe Iowa kicker is going to be fine after Miguel Recinos took the job from Duncan in 2017 and went on to hit 28 of 35 field goals in two seasons as the starter.

Yes, that’s correct. Duncan won the job in 2016 as a walk-on true freshman from Weddington, N.C. He finished the season 9 of 11 in field goals. There was one massive kick in there, the 33-yarder that beat then-No. 3 Michigan, 14-13, at Kinnick Stadium. The game was on ABC and 10 million people watched, according to the ratings.

Recinos rededicated himself the next year and won the job. Duncan struggled with the emotional aspects, but he stayed. Somewhat unbelievably, in the age where transfers often happen on a whim.

And then Duncan cranked out a 2019 for the ages.

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— Duncan will go into the bowl season leading the nation with 29 field goals. He needs two more to tie the FBS record.

— The 29 field goals are an Iowa and a Big Ten record.

— Duncan won Big Ten special teams player of the week three times this season (Iowa State, Illinois and Nebraska).

— Duncan’s two game-winners this season came in trophy games against Iowa State and Nebraska.

No, the kicker generally doesn’t do interviews after a 21-yard field goal to give his team a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.

This would come just two weeks later. At Iowa State, the Hawkeyes rode four Duncan field goals, including a 39-yarder in wet, soggy conditions with 4:51 left in the game, to an 18-17 victory.

Duncan is smart. He knows the kicker is going to talk after 4-for-4 and a game-winner. He got right to the point in his postgame.

He was asked, probably jokingly, if the two-year wait was worth it.

“It was definitely worth it, but my mindset has changed,” Duncan said. “I’m a very religious guy. Talking with Jason Baker (former Iowa punter who spent seven of his 11 years in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and who knows the Duncan family) about this, there’s a difference in kicking ‘free,’

“That’s how I feel now. Once you know God’s in control and he’s got it for you, you can kick free and there’s no stress and that’s how I feel. It’s an amazing feeling. I wish I can keep it going.”

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When someone waits two years for one thing, you let them have the floor. If a player wants to cite faith for getting them through whatever adversity they come across in a career, you absolutely allow room for that. It’s part of the fabric.

Of course, Duncan had doubts.

“Just a little bit,” Duncan said with a laugh when asked about the pressure kickers endure. “It’s a weight lifted off your shoulders, you could say. It’s awesome. It’s hard to describe. I can’t really put it into words. Freshman year is a lot different from how I’m kicking now. I think it shows a little bit.”

Duncan’s next stop at the postgame interview lectern came after Purdue, when he made four field goals to fuel a 26-20 victory.

Duncan discussed the game of “Rock Paper Scissors,” a little bit of a ritual with holder Colten Rastetter after every kick. They’ve kept stats throughout the season. It sounds about even with the Holiday Bowl left to decide it.

“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.”

This is about the time Duncan started being asked about a scholarship. He kicked that through the uprights, too, saying he wasn’t thinking about that. He repeated a few times that team goals will bring along individual goals.

The scholarship didn’t officially drop for Duncan until his 48-yarder, in the wind and the rain, beat Nebraska, 27-24, with one second left at Memorial Stadium.

Duncan has been money for the Hawkeyes, so it’s only fair to pay him a scholarship. That happened at Nebraska, which also included a postgame locker room celebration with the team lifting Duncan on its shoulders.

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“That was an awesome experience and I’m really happy about that,” Duncan said during the Nebraska postgame. “It’s the culmination of four years of hard work.”

Duncan was asked if his scholarship was for the spring. He didn’t know in the moment. Hey, it was a celebration. No time for fine print.

“I was just told,” Duncan said. “There wasn’t much commentary there. It was just a little hug.”

A hug two years in the making.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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