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Iowa Football 2019 Position Previews: Specialists

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Question marks and old stars.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Iowa
Y’all remember this kick?
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

As legend has it, a walk-on freshman kicker named Keith Duncan made one of the bigger kicks in Iowa history during a 14-13 upset of then No. 3-ranked Michigan.

It was well after Duncan took the starting place kicker job following struggles by Miguel Recinos early in the season. The freshman handled all the PAT and field goal attempts for the reason of the season.

Also, yes, that Michigan kick again:

One of my all-time favorite moments.

Anyways, Duncan did not get the job in 2017 and Recinos went on to have two solid years in the Black and Gold. The hero of the Michigan game, however, sat and waited. And waited.

He stayed on the team and now, in 2019, has a chance to win the job again. Oh, and we have a punter battle too. There is not quite anything more Iowa football than that.

Kickers and kicking

A season ago, Recinos hit 17 of 22 field goals and 47 of 47 his PATs. That’s pretty good consistency and while he never hit a 50-plus yard field goal in either of his two seasons as Iowa’s starter, he made over 75 percent of the field goals he attempted in his career.

That’s going to be hard to replace and field position — as well as consistent special teams play — has been one of the things that has kept Iowa winning games and building generally good seasons since Hayden Fry was coaching.

It’s a thing that Iowa generally does well, despite the occasional hiccup. Iowa is usually near the top-half of the Big Ten in kickoff touchbacks and the Hawkeyes love to recruit big legs.

Fairly accurate, too, and Iowa has not had a starting kicker hit under 75-percent of their attempts since 2013, when Mike Meyer went 16-for-22.

Either Duncan or Caleb Shudak will end up with a big job this year. Shudak was the only other player besides Recinos to attempt a kickoff or have a field goal/PAT attempt (Shudak, a junior, hit his only PAT) and could be the frontrunner.

Punters and punting

For starters: Iowa redshirt sophomore Ryan Gersonde injured his knee during the offseason and is out for the season.

Colten Rastetter has handled primary punting duties for the past two seasons and has been somewhat mediocre. He’s never averaged over 40 yards per punt and had only two inside the 20-yard line.

That said, his numbers were an uptick from last year. A small, but noticeable increase.

Iowa also brought in Arizona State transfer Michael Sleep-Dalton, who is 27 and started his career at San Francisco City College. The Australian national was pretty solid a season ago as he averaged 43.8 yards per punt on 59 kicks.

So who knows, we might see an Aussie have a nice curtain call.

Returners and returning

The returning Big Ten Specialist of the Year is Iowa’s own Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

His speed is tremendous and his vision is miles ahead of where it was his freshman season. ISM has drawn big-time praise from Brian Ferentz and that is as good of a path to the field as any.

We really might see Smith-Marsette break out on a national level this year. He is actually starting to remind me of a Stefon Diggs-type player. More the Maryland version than his current self, obviously, but there are some similarities.

Diggs is 6-foot-0 and around 190. Smith-Marsette is listed as 183 on the Hawkeyes’ latest roster and has worked hard to build weight over the past few seasons.

Diggs had far, far more catches and touches than Smith-Marsette has ever had in a single season, but the returning stats are strikingly similar. In 25 kickoff returns during the 2012 season — his best from a return standpoint — he had 713 return yards, just six more than what Smith-Marsette had a year ago.

Something to think about as we watch Smith-Marsette blossom into a truly spectacular player.