Iowa football notebook: Shudak’s opportunity at kicker, young wide receivers standing out, filling the gaps on the D-line

Three Hawkeye football assistant coaches held press conferences via Zoom on Wednesday.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa specialist Caleb Shudak kicks off during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. The Hawkeyes dominated the Spartans, 49-7.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

When Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods approached Caleb Shudak in the offseason to discuss whether the kicker planned on returning to the Hawkeye football team for a sixth season, Woods let his emotions do the talking.

“The conversations he and I had, without getting too personal, I told him I would cry literal tears if he left,” said Woods, one of three Iowa assistant coaches to meet with the media via Zoom on Wednesday. “That’s how I feel about Caleb and how strongly I feel about him as a person and a member of this team.”

Shudak has been with the Hawkeyes since 2016. The last two years, the Council Bluffs, Iowa, native handled kickoff duties for Woods’ special teams unit, but remained sidelined behind Keith Duncan — a consensus All-American in 2019 —  for the starting field goal kicker position.

Duncan’s time with Iowa is over, however. And Shudak is ready to take over.

“When you say the word ‘character,’ I think of Caleb Shudak,” Woods said. “He’s a guy that has worked very hard, he has bided his time, and now it’s time to go. It’s his opportunity now.”

Shudak has only attempted one field goal in his Iowa career — a 52-yarder last season against Northwestern that bounced off the right upright. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has said frequently the past two seasons that the team had two good kickers, but Duncan was just slightly ahead of Shudak.

Much like Duncan spent two seasons on the bench before his record-breaking junior season, Shudak has waited his turn to be a point-scorer for Iowa.

“I think it was very important for him to come back and finish with his classmates, with his teammates and have this opportunity,” Woods said. “He’s done a tremendous job from a leadership standpoint, from a development standpoint. I tell a lot of people that he’s a really, really good kicker and we’ve had two really good kickers here.

“People just don’t know Caleb as well. But they’re going to get to see him this spring and next fall, so I’m excited for him.”

Young wide receivers standing out in spring practices

Iowa’s players and coaches have had a tough time not talking about freshmen wide receivers Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson since spring practices began March 30.

Both players were ranked as four-star recruits by 247Sports, and Bruce and Johnson both graduated high school early and enrolled at the University of Iowa this spring. By doing so, they are getting a head start in spring practices.

“[We are] putting them in situations to see if they are ready,” Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland said. “What they can handle, what they can’t handle. To be honest, there hasn’t been much they can’t handle up to this point. Do they need to learn the system better, learn the details? Absolutely. This is not high school football — far from it. Are they finished products? Not even close.”

RELATED: After ‘downfall’ in production last season, Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. prepared for expanded role

In other wide receiver news, Copeland said Wednesday that Tyrone Tracy Jr., the only Hawkeye receiver who can play all four receiver positions according to Copeland, has done an “excellent” job this offseason growing into a leadership role after the departures of seniors Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith.

Another receiver Copeland mentioned was redshirt sophomore Desmond Hutson. Copeland revealed that Hutson was quarantined three separate times last summer and never really got any momentum last season. Hutson suffered an injury in the 2020 preseason and did not play last season.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder could fit in as a replacement for Smith at Iowa’s “X” receiver position. Along with the players mentioned previously, Hutson will compete with Nico Ragaini, Charlie Jones, and the rest of Iowa’s receiving corps for reps this season.

“He’s a young man that we need to continue to develop,” Copeland said. “He fits the mold physically. If you look at his hands — I’ve been told I have big hands — I feel like his hands are twice as big as mine. He’s got all the tools.”

Filling the gaps on the defensive line

Two years ago, Iowa had to replace Anthony Nelson on the defensive line. Last season, it was A.J. Epenesa. Now, it’s Daviyon Nixon… and two other starters.

Along with Nixon, a consensus All-American at defensive tackle last season, the Hawkeyes will have to replace first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Chauncey Golston and starting defensive tackle Jack Heflin up front next season.

As expected, Iowa assistant defensive line coach Jay Niemann said Wednesday that starting right end Zach VanValkenburg has been the standout in his position group in spring ball. VanValkenburg is the only returning starter from last season’s defensive line and was named second-team All-Big Ten last season.

Yahya Black, Noah Shannon, and John Waggoner are currently the other starters per the team’s spring depth chart.

Logan Jones, Logan Lee,  Joe Evans, and Ethan Hurkett were among the other players Niemann said have been making strides this spring. The Hawkeyes are a long way from their Sept. 4 opener, and Niemann said players up front are still splitting reps at the moment.

Whoever ends up starting will have to make up for what the team lost from last season. But Iowa has become accustomed to replacing star players on the defensive line. And the team is prepared to do so this time around.

“We have a system which coach [defensive coordinator Phil Parker] has had in place for a long time here where we don’t deviate a lot from year to year,” Niemann said. “Guys, once they get into the system, they continue to hear a lot of the same types of things — the same coaching points. A lot of the same fundamentals they hear year after year after year. So even though you may have a guy whose name is new to the lineup, he’s been through a lot of the same things in terms of his development as the guys who played before him.”

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