Iowa football notebook | Starting kicker, holder jobs up for grabs

Caleb Shudak’s departure leaves Iowa with a competition at kicker, but special teams coordinator LeVar Woods is just as concerned with finding a replacement for Ryan Gersonde at holder.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa special teams coach Levar Woods reacts to a play during a football game between No. 16 Iowa and Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 28-21.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

From a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year Charlie Jones to a game-changing blocked punt return for a touchdown a week later, Iowa’s special teams units provided plenty of highlights during the 2021 season.

However, a chunk of LeVar Woods’ press conference last week was devoted to Iowa’s special teams coordinator discussing a position that often goes unnoticed: the holder. The Hawkeyes are in the middle of a kicking competition after the departure of third-team All-American Caleb Shudak. After the graduation of “unheralded” holder Ryan Gersonde, Woods is also seeking a replacement for another aspect of Iowa’s field goal unit.

“It’s a position most people don’t think about,” Woods said. “Everyone blames the kicker for a missed kick. Well, if you go and you watch and you really look closely, a lot of times he’s either off the spot, the tilt is not what the kicker wants or what he expected when he’s striking the ball.”

Junior punter Tory Taylor is “trying to be” the new starting holder despite having little experience doing so, Woods said, as is backup punter Nick Phelps. Defensive back Cooper DeJean, a former high school quarterback who also held, was another name Woods mentioned for the job.

Woods said Iowa’s ideal holder would have good hands and a sense of the “little fine art” of the position — the spot, tilt, and strings — that impact the kicker’s success.

“Each kicker is different,” Woods said. “They all prefer a different type of tilt. Do they want forward or to the side?”

Iowa’s kicking competition likely will continue into fall camp, Woods said, as will the battle for the new holding spot. Once starters at both spots are named, the top tandem can work on their chemistry and perfecting their routine.

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Redshirt sophomore Aaron Blom was the starting kicker on the depth chart released at the start of spring practices. Freshman Drew Stevens, the No. 10 kicker in the 2022 Kohl’s Kicking Camps’ rankings, and junior Lucas Amaya will also be in contention for the job. None of them have any college kicking experience.

“I don’t see anyone leading or trailing right now,” Woods said.

Taylor strives for consistency

Elsewhere on special teams, Taylor returns for his third season as a starter after breaking the program record with 3,688 punting yards (46.1 yards per punt) last season.

The 24-year-old Australian joked that he might be the oldest student-athlete on campus. Despite having the age advantage over his teammates, Taylor is only entering his third year of playing organized American football. Still, Taylor is a veteran voice in the Iowa football building, a fact his coaches need to remind him of.

“Coaches will be like, ‘I know you don’t want to, but sometimes you don’t have a choice,’” Taylor said. “Which I kind of take as a compliment, because it means guys look up to me. It makes me feel good about myself.”

Taylor likes to let his play on the field do that talking for the most part.

Thirty-nine of Taylor’s 80 punts as a sophomore landed inside the opponent 20-yard line, though that’s a number the honorable mention All-Big Ten selection would like to see go up.

“Just trying to minimize the gap between the good and the bad,” Taylor said. “From a punting point of view, just trying to be more consistent.”

DeJean a versatile piece for the Hawkeyes

DeJean’s first season in Iowa City was a busy one.

The former high school quarterback who scored 132 career touchdowns entered the 2021 season at safety before moving to cornerback. Eventually, DeJean saw time on special teams and added a role as a scout team wide receiver to his versatile list of responsibilities. Heading into his sophomore season, DeJean’s role seems to be expanding.

At the start of the spring, DeJean was listed as a No. 2 cornerback, though most of his time in practice has come at safety and “Cash,” a hybrid linebacker/safety position.

“It’s been a learning process,” DeJean said. “I’m still trying to get it all down. [Cash] is a lot different. I haven’t played linebacker in a long time and that’s kind of where that position’s at so it’s definitely a change but I’ve learned a lot.”

On special teams, DeJean continues to practice as a gunner and a returner, spots he saw playing time at last season, while also competing for the starting holder spot.

“That’s really what I came in here with, just trying to find a way to help the team and be part of helping us have success,” DeJean said. “I just want to win games.”