Punting battle coming to an end for Iowa football ahead of first game

Special team coordinator LeVar Woods said the team’s starter at punter will likely be decided this week.


David Harmantas

Iowa Punter Ryan Gersonde sits on the bench during a game against Purdue University on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 24 to 15.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

The Michael Sleep-Dalton era is over. The Arizona State graduate transfer impressed in his only season with the Hawkeyes but now the starting punter job is up for grabs just a little over a week away from game day.

Freshman Tory Taylor, redshirt junior Ryan Gersonde, and redshirt sophomore transfer Nick Phelps are the three contenders for that spot.

The team’s preseason depth chart showed Taylor leading the way followed by Gersonde and Phelps, but special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said the competition is still very much open and will be for as long as possible.

“At punter, the three guys that are working there right now, I think they’ve all been really good,” Woods said. “I saw that Keith [Duncan] proclaimed that they’ve all been hitting 55-yard punts, which is true, but the weather is about to turn, we all know that.

“I think all three of the guys, each of them brings in different talents. Tory has probably the most natural leg strength if you will. Ryan has improved dramatically and greatly. He is another very interesting story, the things that he’s gone through personally with the injury and whatnot, just to put himself in a position to be able to compete. Then also, the new company, Phelps. A little bit unheard of before and transferred in from North Dakota State, but, again, another strong-legged talent.”

Woods said the team’s punt package would be finalized this week. Hawkeye fans likely won’t know who is officially Iowa’s starter at that spot until the offense can’t convert on third down against Purdue in Week 1.

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Taylor, following Sleep-Dalton, is the latest Australian punter to come to Iowa City, and the 23-year-old made quite the journey just to physically make it to campus.

“I think it’s been a very unique challenge,” Woods said. “… Having the ability to come here and have to quarantine not only in his country but then come here and quarantine, just getting to the point where he can actually be in the building and be around his teammates is a very big challenge.”

Woods went to Australia last season on a recruiting trip to meet Taylor in-person.

“It was a really unique opportunity to go over there and see what they do and how they’re trained from an Australian rules standpoint,” Woods said. “Very talented young men over there. We got the right one for us in terms of his character and how he fits in with the rest of the group.”

Gersonde heads into this season after playing in four games during his freshman season in 2017, redshirting during his sophomore season, and missing the entire 2019 season after having knee surgery before the start of the year. He was supposed to be a part of another three-way battle with Sleep-Dalton and Colten Rastetter last preseason.

Phelps enrolled at the University of Iowa in 2019 after redshirting his freshman year at NDSU but didn’t join the Hawkeye football program until he walked-on in the spring of 2020.

It may not be a cut-and-dry punting situation just yet for Iowa, but whoever ends up punting for the Hawkeyes in Week 1 against the Boilermakers on Oct. 24 will have earned that spot.