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

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa football’s kicking unit has a vast array of personalities, but shares a passion for production

The trio of Drew Stevens, Tory Taylor, and Luke Elkin have scored a third of the Hawkeyes’ points this season.
Iowa+punter+Tory+Taylor%2C+long+snapper+Luke+Elkin%2C+and+kicker+Drew+Stevens+celebrate+a+field+goal+during+a+Cy-Hawk+football+game+between+Iowa+and+Iowa+State+at+Jack+Trice+Stadium+in+Ames+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+9%2C+2023.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Cyclones%2C+20-13.
Grace Smith
Iowa punter Tory Taylor, long snapper Luke Elkin, and kicker Drew Stevens celebrate a field goal during a Cy-Hawk football game between Iowa and Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cyclones, 20-13.

A 26-year-old punter from Australia, a 21-year-old long snapper and former quarterback from Wisconsin, and a teenage kicker from South Carolina

This wide-ranging trio — punter/holder Tory Taylor, long snapper Luke Elkin, and kicker Drew Stevens —  has combined for 73 of the Iowa football team’s 216 points this season, or about 33.7 percent of the Hawkeyes’ total. These points have all derived from field goals and extra points, plays that often go unnoticed by the average fan, or are simply taken for granted. 

“I can’t blame them,” Stevens said of football fan’s viewing preferences. “Like, if I’m a person just watching for entertainment, which I was back then, I never watched the punter or kicker. That would usually be the play where I get up, go to the bathroom or the concession stand. But now being [a special teamer] I understand the importance of it.” 

Stevens, Taylor, and Elkin play for a program where special teams are revered, fans cheer loudest for punts, and extra points once determined the fate of the offensive coordinator. 

The smallest of points still played a pivotal role down the stretch, as Iowa won three of its last four games by three points or less. 

“We know it’s razor thin,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of Iowa’s point differentials. “So everything we can get, if it’s a field goal we should be able to make, then we need to make it.” 

And as underdogs against second-ranked Michigan at the Big Ten Championship game, the Hawkeyes will need to keep the ball between the uprights. Doing so may sound simple, but that may be just because the trio has kicking down to a science. 

Elkin said the goal is to have the ball kicked and up in the air between 1.25 and 1.4 seconds from the time he snaps the ball to Taylor, who then sets the ball for Stevens’ boot. The group has practiced this blink-of-an-eye exercise for two years, from an empty practice field to a sold-out Kinnick Stadium. 

Over that span, the three spent more and more time with each other, forming into a cohesive unit that bonds in the countless hours off the field more than in the mere minutes the three spend on it. 

“Us three have a really great dynamic because we spend so much time with each other,” Elkin said. “We’re able to joke around and have a good time, but when it comes down to crunch time, we know we’re going to trust each other to get the job done.”

Taylor stands out among the trio, not just due to his 6-foot-4 frame and foreign accent, but also his unique fame as a crowd favorite. As evidenced by T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Punting is winning,” and a movie-like Senior Day introduction that mirrored that of NFL quarterback Joe Burrow, Taylor is by far the most recognized and celebrated of the three. 

 

 

But Stevens said the process of becoming that niche celebrity didn’t happen overnight. The kicker explained how Taylor told him of struggles early on in his career, such as cultural differences and communication barriers. 

When Stevens arrived on campus in the fall of 2022 from his home in North Augusta, South Carolina, he had the idea that Taylor would be “really weird,” but soon realized the punter had more in common with him than previously thought. 

“He’s not religious and neither am I,” Stevens said of Taylor. “He’s the first person I’ve ever met who’s also not religious. He told me that in Australia, no one else is either.” 

For Elkin, the most impressionable part of Taylor’s character is seen in his passion. Even not playing American football until college, the punter has always been driven to “be good at what he does.” 

“Just the little things, like in summer, [Taylor’s ] like, ‘Let’s go punt, let’s go snap, let’s go punt,’” Elkin said. “Just in the summer, when we’re months and months away from the season … it just shows that he wants to get out there and be able to go play.” 

Even with that energy on the field, Taylor’s advanced age compared to his teammates still shows, especially to Stevens. 

“I mean, he goes to bed at, like, 7:30 p.m., so that’s pretty old-people-like,” Stevens said with a smile. “But he does have to get up for treatment, so I’ll cut him some slack.” 

Off the field, Taylor often serves as the host of the three, offering up his house for games of ping-pong. The results of these contests do make their way back to the practice facility. Hawkeye offensive lineman Tyler Elsbury said Taylor and Elkin often joke about Stevens being “really bad” at the sport. 

When asked about his alleged poor performance in table tennis, Stevens bore a look of shock, but defended his skills. 

“Oh my gosh, me? OK, Luke’s good at ping-pong. He would definitely beat me,” Stevens said. “But me and Tory, I feel like I can get Tory on a good day. I tend to get teamed up on because I have the most trash talk.” 

Aside from ping-pong, the trio play golf at Finkbine and Pleasant Valley, where Taylor and Stevens battle for first place while Elkin can “hang in there for a little bit.”Away from the links, Stevens and Elkin play video games such as Fortnite, where the long snapper is “the best by far.” 

Elkin isn’t just the top gamer but is also the fastest, strongest, and most athletic of the three, per Stevens. Iowa football has three groups for strength and conditioning: lineman, skill players like quarterback and receiver, and semi players like linebackers and safeties. Elkin falls into the semi category, but is atop the group with a record-squat of 550 pounds. 

“I wouldn’t think that [I’m the best athlete], because I’m not one who wants to go around and tell other people that,” Elkin said. “But Drew thinks he’s really good at stuff, so I kind of like to put him in his place at times.”

Before getting to the top of weight-lifting leaderboards, Elkin was 30 pounds lighter coming out of Neenah High School in eastern Wisconsin, where he was not just the long snapper, but also quarterback, wide receiver, and safety. During his junior prep season, Elkin had 798 passing yards, 383 rushing yards, and 25 tackles, and an interception on defense. He scored 14 touchdowns and earned second-team all-conference honors. 

Playing long snapper wasn’t Elkin’s initial position. In eighth grade, Elkin and his teammates were “messing around” and trying to figure out who would play the position that year. Looking back on those “good old days,” the third-year Hawkeye said the switch from throwing to snapping was only natural. 

“I knew how to throw a spiral, so I tried it through my legs, got into it, and realized I was OK with it,” Elkin said.

After that successful experiment in middle school, Elkin went to long-snapper showcase camps in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. At one of these camps his junior year, he met Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods, and the pair stayed in contact ever since. 

After that initial meeting, Woods offered Elkin a walk-on spot, which the long snapper chose over offers from North Dakota State and Division II schools.

A typical practice for Elkin is about 30-40 snaps, compared to 60-80 per session over the summer and on game days. In addition to snaps, Elkin also takes part in tackling circuits, which have come in handy for his five career tackles, especially his takedown of South Dakota State’s Tyler Feldkamp in the 2022 season opener. 

“It was one of those where you don’t have to slow down, you just run right through,” Elkin remembered. 

Having started every game since Week 3 of the 2021 season, Elkin has been a mainstay with Taylor, who doesn’t take the long snapper’s presence and performance lightly. 

“I can honestly say Luke’s the best long snapper I’ve ever seen on film or ever worked with … just a really level-headed and relaxed guy who’s good at what he does,” Taylor said.

Iowa’s coaching staff also took notice of Elkin’s progress over the years, offering the long snapper a scholarship in August.

“He’s been spectacular since he’s got here,” Ferentz said of Elkin. “Just consistent, dependable, great team guy. And he can cover, too. He’s actually an athlete. I don’t think we’ll put a snap-around pass in, but we might throw it to him. You never know.

Scholarship or not, Stevens said Elkin has always been the mature one of the group and will often go into “dad mode” when necessary. Still a teenager, Stevens provides the jokes and isn’t afraid to make his own fun at practice, but Elkin will draw the line at such entertainment. 

“I’ll be doing something like throwing the ball around and he’ll be like, ‘Come on. Just put the ball down. Stop being a little kid,’” Stevens said. 

Ultimately, Stevens doesn’t mind the strictness of his elders, Elkin and Taylor, as he knows that such hyperfocusing is the result of dedication. 

“The big thing about me is I want to know if you care about the craft you are doing, and they both care,” Stevens said of his partners on the kicking unit. “They’re meticulous with it, so I feel comfortable wherever we go in the game. I don’t even question whether [the ball] is going to come down because it always does.” 

Nevertheless, the trio still makes room for some extra enjoyment on the field. Last year, Elkin came up with the idea for the three to bow in front of each other after every made kick. This year, the celebrations have become more spontaneous. 

After witnessing their Wisconsin counterparts flap their arms in a mocking gesture to the Hawkeyes, Taylor, Stevens, and Elkin did the same on the field against the Badgers in Week 7. 

“We weren’t going to let that slide,” Taylor said after that game. “I turn to Drew, and I say, ‘If we get the momentum, we’re finding [the Wisconsin players] and we’re doing it.’”

And, after watching Stevens shoot a Powerade bottle at a trash can like a basketball, Taylor chose to make the ‘flick of the wrist’ pose another option for celebration. 

Part of the reason Elkin takes his job seriously is that he’s aware of the sort of unspoken scrutiny upon him. Admitting he’s had some bad snaps in the past, he said his main goal is to simply stay out of the spotlight. 

“If nobody knows who you are then nothing bad has happened,” Elkin said. “Because usually how it goes is, if there’s a bad snap or something bad that happens, then people know who the snapper’s name is. So I think it’s, like, ‘If you don’t know who I am, then it’s probably a good thing.’”

However, in recent weeks it has been nearly impossible to not talk about the work of the kicking unit, whether that be praise or criticism. After hitting three field goals against Rutgers and a game-winner from 53 yards out against Northwestern, Stevens missed an extra point against Illinois and then, in last Friday’s game against Nebraska, had his worst performance of the season. 

Stevens had two field-goal attempts blocked and had two kickoffs go out of bounds. In the fourth quarter, Stevens was benched in favor of backup kicker Marshall Meeder, who nailed a 38-yard field goal as time expired to give Iowa its 10th win of the regular season, a 13-10 victory to take back the Heroes Trophy. 

According to Taylor, Stevens received some “choice words” from some members of the Iowa coaching staff during the game, but the punter “fired back,” and stood up for his teammate. 

“‘That’s not the way you treat someone. [Stevens] is not going out there and missing kicks on purpose,’” Taylor remembered saying. “I pulled him aside and said, ‘Hey, I know you want the ground to swallow you up. I know you think the world’s going to end. I promise you it’s not.’” 

The punter added he even felt a similar feeling after failing to convert on a fake punt last year against Ohio State, describing how he wanted to “run into the locker room,” after his mistake. 

Calling the Nebraska game a “growing up” moment for the young kicker, Taylor said he was proud of Stevens celebrating with Meeder after the game-winner.

“It was never about Drew not playing,” Taylor said. “It was about Marshall going out there and executing a kick. That’s what I love most about our specialists’ room.”

Taking away that trio’s 73 points, and Iowa finds itself with a negative three point differential on the year. Out of the 133 teams in the FBS that finished the season with an average point differential of negative three or worse, none finished with a winning record.

“Maybe people don’t think we’re the most fun to watch but we end up pulling through,” Stevens said of the kicking unit. “We’re a good team, we stay together all the time. We pay attention to the little details, more than I like to think anybody else does.” 

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
she/her/hers
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.