New No. 1: Iowa football kicker Drew Stevens takes over top spot

The true freshman, who hasn’t missed a kick yet this season, has been Iowa’s starter since Week 3.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa kicker Drew Stevens kicks a field goal during a near seven-hour football game between Iowa and Nevada at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wolfpack, 27-0.

Drew Stevens didn’t always want to be a college football player.

Stevens, Iowa’s true freshman kicker out of North Augusta, South Carolina, was a switch kicker in soccer at North Augusta High School, and his goal was to set the all-time assists record for the school before he graduated.

“Even going into Drew’s junior year, his goal was to go to college to play soccer,” Michelle Stevens, Drew’s mother, said.

Drew was a quick winger or midfielder on the soccer field, Michelle said. Then, between his junior and senior years of high school, he grew eight inches. 

Suddenly, Drew wasn’t as fast on the pitch as he used to be.

“He went from one of the smallest kids on the team to one of the biggest, like literally in three months,” Michelle said. “So, they moved him to outside back on defense, and it just turned into a different game for him.”

Drew decided to change his plans after his growth spurt.

Going into his senior year of high school, he was already a two-year starter at kicker on his high school football team because of his parents, who made him start kicking during his freshman year so he could make more friends.

“He didn’t want to play [football],” Tim Stevens, Drew’s father, said. “But we wanted him to try it because I played four years of high school football and told him about those experiences. I wanted him to have something like that. And he’s exceeded any expectations we had for him in football.”

During his senior year, Drew took additional practices with kicking coach Dan Orner out of Charlotte, North Carolina — who was also the coach of former Iowa kicker Keith Duncan.

After attending kicking camps and visits to different colleges around the country, Drew ended up with seven scholarship and four preferred walk-on offers.

Michelle was born in Cedar Rapids, so she knows the passion of Iowa’s fan base. She still wanted her son to accept a scholarship offer he received from North Carolina State, because Raleigh is a lot closer to North Augusta than Iowa City.

Iowa kicker Drew Stevens kicks the ball during a kickoff in a near seven-hour football game between Iowa and Nevada at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wolfpack, 27-0. (Gabby Drees)

“I was born and raised a die-hard Hawkeye fan,” Michelle said. “So, when that opportunity came on the table, the fan in me was like, ‘Oh this is awesome.’ But the mom in me was like, ‘NC State, Clemson, South Carolina, that’s all a short drive away.’ But in the end, it was just about the opportunity that he wanted.”

And there was opportunity at Iowa. Sixth-year senior kicker Caleb Shudak was graduating, so Drew knew he would have a shot at the starting gig with the Hawkeyes during his first year.

“I think the opportunity to play early was big on Drew’s list,” Tim said. “Iowa was just one of those opportunities where, you know, we didn’t know really anything about [sophomore kicker] Aaron Blom, but he had no game experience either. So, it seemed like it would be a more even competition.”

So, Drew took a chance on his preferred walk-on offer at Iowa. Now, he’s earned the No. 1 kicking spot with the Hawkeyes.

An expensive deal

Iowa historically hasn’t offered kickers a scholarship out of high school. The last time head coach Kirk Ferentz offered a freshman kicker a scholarship was in 2014 to Mick Ellis.

Duncan — who came to Iowa as a walk-on from Weddington, North Carolina, in 2016 — understands Iowa’s hesitancy.

“It’s like, the last seven or eight starters have come in as walk-ons,” Duncan said. “So, you look at it from a coaching perspective and say, ‘Hey, why would I scholarship a high school kid when the last seven starters that I’ve had have started as walk-ons?’”

Drew met Duncan while they were both training with Orner in North Carolina. When Drew asked Duncan about his experience at Iowa, Duncan encouraged him to join the Iowa football program because of its culture and consistency.

Drew’s decision to go to Iowa as a preferred walk-on meant he had to pay out-of-state tuition and fees — at least for his first year. The total estimated cost of attendance for out-of-state students attending Iowa, including tuition and room and board, is $43,792 per year.

“Money is always a concern, right?” Tim said. “But I think we would do whatever we needed to do to give Drew the opportunity to chase his dream for a while. We had a plan in place … if he came in and did his job and was able to earn a scholarship within a certain amount of time, he would be able to remain there. But if he went up there and he lost the job, and we have to pay what we have to pay for out-of-state tuition, then there’s a chance he might not be there.”

Duncan had a similar deal with his parents when he first moved from North Carolina to Iowa as a walk-on kicker — get a scholarship or come home. 

Duncan kicked at Iowa from 2016-20, and he had to pay out-of-state tuition for four of those years. Ferentz put Duncan on scholarship for his fifth and final year with the Hawkeyes in 2020.

“I think Drew is absolutely a scholarship-level kicker,” Duncan said. “But at a school like Iowa, you have to earn it. Because a scholarship at Iowa is not only a financial gain, it’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve been working hard. You’re a leader. You’ve been performing well, this is your reward.’”

If Drew keeps his starting spot and develops as a leader throughout this season, Duncan said there’s a possibility he’ll be put on scholarship as a sophomore. 

Similar styles

Duncan now lives in Des Moines and runs Keith Duncan Kicking, a developmental camp for kickers. But at special teams coordinator LeVar Woods’ request, he’ll come back to Iowa City to help out in the kicking room.

Iowa kicker Keith Duncan attempts a field goal during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. The Hawkeyes dominated the Spartans, 49-7. Duncan was perfect on extra points but missed his lone field goal attempt from 37 yards. (Shivansh Ahuja)

Duncan’s advice is especially helpful to Drew, as the two have similar kicking styles that stem from Orner.

“[Duncan is] probably one of the biggest helpers I have because we have so much to relate about and our form is about the same,” Drew said. “If there are little kinks here and there, he’s the guy you can go to fix it.”

Drew and Duncan have similar fundamentals — including techniques to keep their chests straight while kicking and how to avoid swinging their arms and legs. Duncan also gives Drew advice on the wind patterns and environments at different Big Ten stadiums.

“There’s a lot of unique ways to look at kicking,” Duncan said. “I used to take notes of stadiums and say, ‘Hey, Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue, they have an opening which typically the wind blows this way, which is going to cause your ball to do this.’ So, kicking is a lot of cause and effect. And a lot of that effect comes from the environment. So, I think that’s some of what we talked about as well as routine.”

‘It’s all about competition’

Drew had the best opportunity to start as a true freshman at Iowa. But he had to earn it.

Shudak graduated from Iowa after last season, leaving Drew and Blom in a kicking competition for the open No. 1 spot. Both kickers struggled in the spring. At a windy open spring practice on April 24, Blom missed two kicks over 40 yards, while Drew missed three. 

But both kickers had time to improve before the season started. And they did. 

At Iowa’s next open practice on Aug. 13, both Blom and Drew put 15 balls through the uprights on 15 attempts. 

While neither kicker had seen game action before the 2022 season, Ferentz ultimately decided to start Blom, who has been in the program longer than Drew. 

Iowa kicker Aaron Blom attempts a field goal during a football game between Iowa and Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. The Cyclones ended a six-game Cy-Hawk series losing streak and defeated the Hawkeyes, 10-7. Blom failed field goal attempt was 48 yards. (Grace Smith)

Blom was listed as starting kicker on Iowa’s Week 1 and 2 depth charts. He went 1-of-3 on field-goal attempts through the first two games and missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds of the Cy-Hawk game.

Following the Hawkeyes’ 10-7 loss to the Cyclones, Drew got his chance.

“[Woods] hinted at the idea on Thursday [before Nevada],” Drew said. “He brought me into his meeting room and said, ‘We’re gonna look to give you an opportunity at field goal, we know you’ve been champing at the bit to get it.’ And then on Friday, during practice, he calls me over, he lets me know.”

Drew’s parents weren’t originally going to make the trip from North Augusta to Iowa City for the Nevada game because their other children had a lot of sports-related commitments, Tim said.

But when Drew told them he was going to start, Tim got a last-minute flight out of Atlanta to make it to Kinnick Stadium for the Hawkeyes’ night game.

“We weren’t gonna come to the Nevada game, and then I said, ‘Well, I gotta go now because it’s going to be the first time.’” Tim said. “It was very exciting to get to see him kick field goals in addition to kickoffs, and it’s just one of those he’ll never forget.”

After Iowa’s game against Nevada started at 6:30 p.m., it was delayed for a total of four hours because of lightning. Drew made a field goal kick on both Saturday and Sunday against Nevada — one in the second quarter on Saturday night and another in the third quarter on Sunday morning following the delays.

While Michelle wasn’t at Kinnick Stadium to see Drew kick in person, she stayed up until 3 a.m. Eastern time to watch through the end of the game. 

Drew went 2-of-2 on field goal attempts against Nevada and 3-of-3 on extra points. He also went 2-of-2 on field-goal attempts versus Rutgers. He did not miss any PATs.

While Ferentz praised Drew’s recent performance at a Sept. 27 press conference, he did not commit to Drew taking the starting role for the rest of the season.

“Nobody is down on Aaron,” Ferentz said. “We all believe in Aaron. He does a good job in practice every day. I think, right now, Drew has earned the right to be our kicker.

“But it’s all about competition. You’re talking about two young guys, two inexperienced guys, too. I’ve said in the offseason we expect some ups and downs, probably bumps in the road at that spot, and hopefully we can just keep pushing forward. But it’s good to have two guys in competition.”

Family in the stands

At least one of Drew’s parents have made it to every game, home or away, so far this season. And they plan to have a family representative at every Iowa game this season — despite some logistical challenges.

The family flies out of Atlanta each Saturday morning because Drew’s younger brother plays high school football in North Augusta on Friday nights.

Typically, the family leaves for Atlanta after the Friday game, gets a hotel, and takes the first flight to Chicago on Saturday morning. From there, they fly to Cedar Rapids and rent a car to drive to Iowa City.

The family has made it to every game with time to spare. The only exception was Iowa’s season-opener against South Dakota State.

“Because it was Drew’s very first game, kickoff was at 11, we ended up chartering a flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids,” Michelle said. “We flew from Atlanta, the 6 a.m. flight to Chicago.”

“From there, there was no connection to get us into Cedar Rapids in time,” Tim added. “So, we chartered a flight, a private flight, to get to Cedar Rapids to get our rental car. And we literally walked in the stadium 10 minutes before kickoff.”

Michelle and Tim drove 14 hours each way to Iowa’s game against No. 4 Michigan last Saturday because they were concerned flights would be canceled because of Hurricane Ian.

But this weekend, Drew will have ample support when Iowa travels to Champaign to take on Illinois at Memorial Stadium. Tim is from Illinois, and he has a lot of relatives in the area.

“I have a lot of relatives — two of my brothers, my dad still live there. Aunt and uncle live in Champaign,” Tim said. “So, we’re going to have about 30 of us, our family members, at the game on Saturday.”