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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa football right tackle Gennings Dunker commands presence on and off field

Iowa football starting right tackle Gennings Dunker has physical strength and a unique personality.
Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan
Iowa offensive lineman Gennings Dunker blocks Penn State defensive end Zuriah Fisher during a football game between No. 24 Iowa and No. 7 Penn State at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes, 31-0.

When discussing Iowa football each offseason, not much is typically said about the offensive line.

The unit has been a breeding ground for NFL teams looking to fill up their front five, as 19 former Hawkeye linemen have been drafted since Kirk Ferentz took over as head coach in 1999. 

But after finishing bottom of the barrel in total offense in 2022 and allowing the most sacks in over a decade, many were skeptical of Iowa’s O-line heading into this season with a mixed bag of starters. 

One of such starters is right tackle Gennings Dunker, a player coaches have been excited to see perform after moving from right guard last season. 

Because of his freakish farm strength and bizarre eating habits, Dunker has been something of a locker room legend since arriving on campus in 2021.

But now the redshirt second year is looked upon to step up as the only underclassman on this Hawkeye offensive line. 

Iowa running backs coach Ladell Betts said Dunker’s transition to tackle has been seamless this season.

“You never know how things are going to unfold when somebody goes to a new spot or a new position,” he said. “But he’s settled in really well, and I think he’s having a good year so far.”

But there is more to the one they call “Dunk,” the 6-foot-5, 320-pound bookworm on the pre-med route who loves reading, Brittany Spears, and lifting heavy stuff. 

Overlooked coming up 

Growing up near the borders of both Iowa and Wisconsin in Lena, Illinois, Dunker was far from the physical phenomenon he is now.

Dunker entered high school at a respectable 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds but did not make any immediate impressions on Lena-Winslow High School football coach Ric Arand. 

“[Dunker] was a horrible athlete and football player his freshman year in high school, absolutely god-awful,” Arand said in an interview with The Athletic. 

Arand said it was during Dunker’s first season that the son of a former powerlifter started taking the weight room more seriously.

“It’s quite obvious he’s never stopped seeing the weight room [since then],” Arand said.

By his second year of high school, Dunker started getting playing time on a powerhouse Lena-Winslow team that had won two state football titles in the previous decade.

And by the end of his third year, Dunker was a three-star prospect, all-conference and all-state honoree, and state champion himself.

He also had committed to play college football for Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes, who Dunker and his family rooted for growing up.

Dunker said Kirk Ferentz and assistant coach Seth Wallace stumbled upon him by accident during his second year of high school while recruiting a teammate of his.

“I was doing homework in the cafeteria, and they asked how big my shoes were and how tall I was,” Dunker said. “They take kids from small towns and build them up to be something great.”

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But during this time of success on the gridiron, Dunker also made sure to stay active in his academics as well. As an avid reader, he joined the school’s reading club, even getting in trouble on occasion for reading during classes. 

“You learn a lot more things from reading than just watching TV and watching SpongeBob,” Dunker said at Iowa football’s 2023 media day.

In fact, Dunker admitted he doesn’t own a television. 

“I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up, [so] I just read all the time,” Dunker said. “It’s something I like to do.”

Dunker’s fourth-year season at Lena-Winslow was delayed until the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he sat out the season, dealing with a foot injury.

By the time he graduated, Dunker had bulked up to 280 pounds. 

Dunk on campus

It didn’t take long for Dunker to make his presence on the University of Iowa campus.

Teammates quickly started comparing Dunker to folk hero Paul Bunyan due to him occasionally sporting a beard and his personal records in the weight room — achieving 15 reps of 345 pounds on the bench press and a 680-pound squat, barely missing the program squat record held by center Logan Jones. 

“[Dunker’s] a ginormous dude who wants to hit people,” Jones said.

He has also gone viral on X, formerly Twitter, after former Iowa starting quarterback Spencer Petras shared that Dunker consumes 14 protein shakes a day.

“He’s a total meathead, but he’s a great kid,” Petras said. 

Dunker is also a two-time winner of the Solon Beef Days hay bale toss, in which participants battle to see who can throw a 60-pound hay bale the highest. 

This summer, with a crowd of cheering fans, Dunker flung a hay bale 14 feet and 6 inches into the air, setting the record in a competition Iowa offensive that lineman have been competing in for decades.

“I grew up baling hay. My dad [once] dropped me off at our family friend’s farm, and he said you’re not coming home until you’re finished bailing hay,” Dunker said. “I won’t mention the name of the family because I think there’s child labor laws.”

“More than meets the eye”

Since making his debut in the starting lineup against Kentucky in the 2023 Music City Bowl, the goal for Dunker is to improve fundamentally. 

“He’s certainly strong enough and all that stuff, but just learning how to play, that’s a big challenge for him right now, but he’s doing a good job,” Ferentz said in an Aug. 29 press conference.  

As only a redshirt second year with the impressive physical traits to compete in the Big Ten, Dunker has the potential to join the lineage of successful Hawkeye offensive linemen in the future. 

Still, the 20-year-old knows he can’t get complacent in sharpening his craft. 

Though he is probably better suited dishing up pancakes in the run game, as he showcased in the game against Kentucky, Dunker — along with the rest of Hawkeyes’ offensive line — needs to work to better protect Iowa quarterback Cade McNamara, as Iowa ranks in the bottom half in sacks allowed in the Big Ten with nine so far this season. 

“We have a lot of things to improve on; just kind of fundamental stuff, and that’s what we’re working on each week to just get a little bit better,” Dunker said. 

But Dunk is up for the challenge, like only a student who chose a major like health and human physiology because he wanted to “entertain” himself could.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to [study], and I was like, ‘This could be interesting,’ so I started taking the classes, and they weren’t too bad,” Dunker said.

Whether it’s on the football field or in the classroom as a four-time dean’s list recipient, the mythos around the Dunk will undoubtedly be felt on the UI campus for some time.

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About the Contributor
Cooper Worth
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.