Iowa took a chance on Tory Taylor last year.
Taylor was from Melbourne, Australia, and had never played American football. But the Hawkeyes needed a punter, and Taylor’s kicking ability was certainly a draw.
And all Taylor did in his first season was earn All-Big Ten honors after averaging 44.1 yards per punt, third best in the Big Ten and 20th best nationally. Eighteen of his 40 punts landed inside the 20-yard line, nine inside the 10. Twenty of his punts resulted in a fair catch.
“I mean the fact that Tory never played a football game, American football game, until we were in West Lafayette (for the season opener against Purdue) makes the story a lot better in my mind,” coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Taylor had nine punts of 50 yards or more, with a long of 61.
That kind of distance impressed Ferentz.
“Probably the biggest surprise to me was his ability to plus-50 punting,” Ferentz said. “I didn't expect that. I thought maybe that might be an issue actually, but it became a strength of his.”
And Ferentz expects Taylor to be even better this season.
“He has a great attitude,” Ferentz said. “He's improved. He's in better shape now. He's been in the program for over a year, and he's got a great attitude. He's not commercialized, at least as far as I know. He's just kind of ... every day he just really appreciates the whole deal.”
There is experience at kicker too, although Caleb Shudak, back for his sixth season, hasn’t done much kicking for the Hawkeyes.
Shudak handled Iowa’s kickoff duties for the last two seasons as Keith Duncan was on his way to winning All-American honors handling field goals and extra points.
Now Shudak, who has just one PAT and one field-goal attempt in his college career, takes over.
“And it literally -- and I've been saying this for two years — it literally was almost flipping a coin between he and Keith Duncan,” Ferentz said. “They were on each other's tails. They were really close. There are some things Caleb did a little better maybe than Keith.”
Charlie Jones will be the punt returner for the second consecutive season. Jones had 21 returns for 221 yards and one touchdown last season.
The Hawkeyes lose Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who was the lead kickoff returner last season. Ivory Kelly-Martin could fill that role, but he’s also No. 2 on the depth chart at running back.
“We're losing a really good guy in Ihmir, but we feel like we have a bunch of guys that are going to have a chance to emerge. That is one position on our team where we feel like we've got a pretty solid situation,” Ferentz said.
Austin Spiewak will return as the long snapper for the second consecutive season.