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 notebook | New punter Rhys Dakin aims to forge his own identity

The Hawkeyes will have another Australian on special teams this season, but Dakin doesn’t want to be compared to his predecessor, Tory Taylor.
Cody Blissett
Fan’s turn on their flashlights at the start of the fourth quarter during a football game between Iowa and Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 15-13.

From the minute he set foot on campus, Rhys Dakin knew he had big shoes to fill. After all, replacing beloved former punter Tory Taylor is no easy task. 

But Dakin is up to the challenge. 

“The big thing for me is to just be myself and take it one day at a time,” Dakin said at media availability Tuesday. “I always have him [Taylor] as a resource, which says a lot about him as a person.” 

Both Dakin and Taylor hail from Melbourne, Australia, and trained with Prokick Australia, an organization that secures U.S. college scholarships for kickers and punters. The pair also played cricket and Australian rules football as youths before transitioning to Gridiron Australia to help accumulate themselves to American football. 

Dakin doesn’t want to be compared to Taylor, last season’s Ray Guy Award winner as the nation’s top collegiate punter, but he won’t mind the rabid support that Hawkeye fans gave Taylor over the past two seasons. The teenager recalled waking up at three in the morning to watch Iowa games live from Australia and was struck by the crowd “going nuts” whenever No. 9 stepped on the turf. 

Third-year placekicker Drew Stevens is happy to have another Aussie on special teams. 

“He’s not quite acclimated to American culture yet, but it’s fun to have the accent again,” Stevens said. “He [Dakin] and Tory can both hammer a ball.” 

Iowa fans will get to see Dakin and the rest of the Hawkeyes inside Kinnick Stadium for the first time this season at Saturday’s annual open spring practice. Admission and parking are free to the public with gates opening at 9:45 a.m. Central time. 

Linebacking corps continuity

Shortly after Iowa’s Citrus Bowl loss to Tennessee on Jan 1, starting linebackers Nick Jackson and Jay Higgins had major decisions to make. 

Jackson had completed his fifth year of eligibility, while Higgins wrapped up his fourth season. Both had stellar 2023 seasons, with Higgins earning a first-team All-American nod from Sports Illustrated while Jackson made the All-Big Ten third-team by league media. 

Both could’ve declared for the 2024 NFL Draft, but each decided to return for one final season with the Black and Gold. But one more season under the lights at Kinnick Stadium proved too precious to ignore. 

“When I thought about it, I realized that the NFL was always going to be there, but the opportunity to play at Iowa was not,” Jackson said. 

Though the return of Jackson and Higgins provides a huge boost to the Iowa defense, it does prevent more playing opportunities for some of the younger players in the room. Despite this, third-year linebackers Jaxon Rexroth and Jaden Harrell have embraced the chance to learn from the veterans and improve their own games.  

“Here at Iowa we stress the importance of special teams, and that’s how we make a difference,” Rexroth said. “It’s been good to contribute in that way.” 

Rexroth, who notched a forced fumble against Nebraska last season, is third on the depth chart behind sixth-years Kyler Fisher and Sebastian Castro at Leo/Cash. Harrell sits behind Higgins at middle linebacker and also plays on special teams.  Both could have transferred to other schools for more playing time, but Harrell said the culture at Iowa made it easy to stick around. 

“The grass in the portal isn’t always greener on the other side, and I’m going to take my chances here,” Harrell said. “I have a great relationship with [assistant head coach Seth] Wallace and the rest of the linebackers.” 

“Those guys come out every single day and compete,” Jackson said. “Their knowledge of the playbook is going through the roof and we feel we have a lot of depth within that group.” 

Running backs embrace new offense 

The Hawkeyes are notorious for their offensive futility over the past three seasons, but they return one of the most talented running back groups in the nation. 

Third-year Kaleb Johnson led the pack with 463 yards and three touchdowns, but redshirt first-year Kamari Moulton hopes to make a bigger impact after minimal playing time in 2023. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder scored two touchdowns in his debut against Western Michigan but saw action in only three games since totaling 27 carries for 93 yards in his rookie season. 

With new offensive coordinator Tim Lester running the offense, Johnson and Moulton are excited about their roles in the new-look scheme.

“It’s really exciting to learn a new offense and everyone is just really happy to learn new stuff and have new roles,” Moulton said. 

“It really utilizes all of our talents to a specific ability, and he [Lester] has been coming up with new plays and ways we can all contribute,” Johnson added. 

Moulton said that one of the biggest changes in the new scheme is implementing the run-pass option and increased motion, elements uncharacteristic of the Hawkeyes last season. These alterations have made anticipating play calls difficult for the Iowa defense.  

“We’ve definitely given everyone a level playing field, and [the defense] don’t know exactly what we’re doing right now,” Moulton said. “You have fun with yourself.” 

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About the Contributors
Brad Schultz
Brad Schultz, Sports Reporter
Brad Schultz is a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Sports Studies. This is first year working as a sports reporter and he has a deep passion and love for sports. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Brad is a contributor for Saturday Blitz, a college football site, with his content primarily covering Iowa and the Big Ten.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.