Who the Hawkeyes play, and when. Tyler Davis/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The two-man competition to be Iowa’s starting quarterback this fall is drawing all the attention.
The two guys vying to be the Hawkeyes’ next punter? It’s just another August of anonymity for Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde.
It goes with the territory, said Rastetter, a sophomore walk-on trying to earn some playing time for a second consecutive summer. But he said there’s also a point where the quarterback and punting competitions intersect.
“People make fun of you for being a specialist but, I mean, you’re the fourth-down quarterback,” said Rastetter, a native of Guttenberg. “You’ve got to get your team momentum. You’ve got to show your team, ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m part of the team and I want to be successful, too.’”
Rastetter redshirted in 2015 after arriving in Iowa City from Clayton Ridge High School. Last August, his dream of becoming Iowa’s primary punter was extinguished with the arrival of a graduate transfer from Central Michigan.
Ron Coluzzi promptly kicked, quipped and somersaulted his way into the hearts of Hawkeye fans in his lone season, averaging 41.1 yards per punt while forcing opponents inside their 20-yard line on 24 occasions.
Rastetter punted once, for 42 yards. It resulted in a fair catch.
This year his competition comes in the form of true freshman Gersonde, an all-state performer at Milwaukee’s Marquette University High School a year ago who is on scholarship at Iowa. Gersonde spent his childhood living in Australia, playing that nation’s version of football, before moving back to Wisconsin. He averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season.
Rastetter and Gersonde both also excelled as wide receivers in their high school days, a sign that punters are more athletic than commonly perceived. Both are left-footed. They have bonded quickly, Rastetter said, no doubt helped by the hours that kickers must spend hanging out with other kickers.
“He came in right away and he really got after it. I respect that. He’s my kind of guy,” Rastetter said of Gersonde. “He’s very social. Being a freshman like that, it’s difficult. You’re kind of scared, kind of nervous. But he’s definitely an outgoing person.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is aware of the value of a strong punter and has never minimized the importance of that competition. For a team that often plays close games — half of the Hawkeyes’ regular-season games were decided by eight points or less last season — field position is vital. Coluzzi’s most memorable punt pinned Michigan at its 2-yard line and led to a safety that jump-started Iowa’s biggest victory of the year.
“Colten was better at the end of spring than he was in the beginning. I think all of us would agree he's a better player than he was in April. But it's all about consistency now,” Ferentz said. “Ryan's putting some pressure on him, too, which is good. Competition makes everybody a little bit better.”
Rastetter said he’s taking a more mature approach this summer, being sure to warm up properly and keeping his repetition count low to save wear and tear on his leg for what he hopes is a long season ahead.
“Last year, I would just bring out the driver,” he said, “just go at it right away.”
Rastetter has looked good in Iowa’s spring games each of the past two seasons. He said he was pleased with his showing, then spent the summer building strength alongside his teammates.
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The result is showing up in his hang time, Rastetter said. He’s in the 4.7- to 4.8-second range now. Last summer, that was 4.3 to 4.4, he said.
Regardless of what happens in the punting competition, Rastetter is penciled in as the holder on field goals, something Coluzzi handled last year. Miguel Recinos is poised to take over Coluzzi’s kickoff duties.
“I’m just looking for consistency, and that’s not necessarily the hang time and the distances. It’s just my drop, to hit a clean ball every time,” Rastetter said of his punting during Saturday’s media day.
“I’m getting there. The past week went well. It was very successful for me. I can work off this. I can build off this.”
As he did last year, Rastetter knows he must brace himself for whatever his coaches decide. He’ll learn his fate in the next three weeks.
“Whoever benefits the team the most, that’s what we’re looking for,” Rastetter said. “So say if (Gersonde) does win, I’m going to be there to support him. If I win, I hope he’s there in support of me.”