Hawkeye football special teams poised for strong season in 2021-22

In 2020-21, Iowa was fifth in the nation in overall special teams ratings, according to Football Outsiders.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa wideout Charlie Jones returns a punt during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. The Hawkeyes dominated the Spartans, 49-7.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

Iowa football’s special teams unit was one of the best in the nation during the 2020-21 season.

Under the direction of coordinator LeVar Woods, the Hawkeyes finished fifth in the country in special teams ratings — which combines kickoff return, kickoff, punt return, punt, field goal, and opponent field goal efficiency into one rating, according to Football Outsiders.

Iowa was second in punt efficiency, seventh in kickoff efficiency, and 10th in net field position on offense.

Additionally, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in net punting with 42.9 yards per punt and fifth in kickoff return coverage with 15.7.

As Iowa looks toward 2021-22, here’s a look at the special teams’ positions heading into the season.


Keith Duncan, who played in three seasons from 2016-20, graduated as the program’s career leader with an 82.5 percent field goal percentage and 20 field goals from 40 yards or more.

Following this year’s spring practices, sixth-year senior Caleb Shudak was listed as the team’s starting kicker.

Shudak handled kickoff duties for the Hawkeyes in the past two seasons, but he only attempted one field goal is his career — a 52-yard attempt against Northwestern in 2020 that bounced off the right upright.

Punter Ryan Gersonde handled all holding duties last season, and he’ll be back for his fifth season in 2021-22.

Freshman Aaron Blom and sophomore Lucas Amaya are the other two kickers on the Hawkeye roster — neither have received playing time.


After Michael Sleep-Dalton completed his graduate transfer year at Iowa in 2019, Tory Taylor came into the Iowa program for 2020-21

With a punting average of 44.1 yards, Taylor ranked third in the Big Ten and 20th nationally with 18 of his 40 punts going inside the 20-yard line.

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

His 2020-21 performance earned him first-team All-Big Ten by league coaches and media and second-team All-America by The Athletic.

The Melbourne, Australia, native heads into the 2021 season as a preseason first-team All-Big Ten by Athlon Sports.

Gersonde and junior Nick Phelps are the other two punters on the roster. Gersonde last punted in 2017, and Phelps hasn’t punted since joining the program in 2020.

Kick returner

Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette was the kickoff returner for the Hawkeyes from 2017-21. In the 2020-21 season, Smith-Marsette returned eight kicks for an average of 22 yards. Smith-Marsette was drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft to the Minnesota Vikings.

Senior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin will likely take over the primary kick return position. In 2020-21, Kelly-Martin returned two kicks for an average of 20 yards. In 2017-18, Kelly-Martin returned 19 kicks for a total of 404 yards.

Punt returner

During his first season as a Hawkeye in 2020-21, wide receiver Charlie Jones took the punt returner sport by storm — returning 21 punts for an average of 10.5 yards.

With his 2020-21 performance, the Deerfield, Illinois, native was named a second-team All-Big Ten specialist by conference coaches.

Jones is a preseason first-team All-Big Ten return specialist by Athlon Sports.

Long snapper

After being on the roster since 2016, Austin Spiewak received his first chance to play in 2020-21 as he handled all long snapping duties for punts, field goals, and PAT attempts. He was listed as the first-team long snapper following 2021 spring practices.

Freshmen Luke Elkin and Liam Reardon and sophomore Zach Kluver are the other long snappers on the roster — none have yet seen playing time.