Iowa football's Paulsen twins on verge of a dream — becoming first Hawkeye twins to start together since 1980

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Landan and Levi Paulsen are twin brothers who will be Iowa’s starting guards in Saturday’s season-opening football game against Miami of Ohio.

No, it’s not just because their offensive line coach, Tim Polasek, still can’t tell them apart. The fifth-year seniors from Moville with the flowing red beards and pronounced Scandinavian accents have earned this moment in Hawkeye lore by how well they’ve prepared this offseason.

Landan, the left-handed one, will start at left guard when the No. 19 Hawkeyes tangle with the RedHawks beginning at 6:40 p.m. at Kinnick Stadium (FS1). It will be his first career start.

Levi, the right-handed one, will be at right guard in place of the injured Cole Banwart, for the fourth start of his career.

Twin brothers have not started the same game at Iowa since Kent and Kevin Ellis were members of the 1980 defensive secondary.

“Ever since we were kids, we did everything together,” Levi Paulsen said Tuesday. “So I figured someday in college football, whether it was our first year or our fifth year, we’d probably be on the field together at some point in time.”

Landan Paulsen had a class Tuesday morning and so was unable to meet with reporters. He’s getting a degree in health and human physiology. Levi is studying geography. That’s one of the few differences between the two.

Iowa offensive lineman Levi Paulsen speaks with reporters during a football player media availability, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, at the Hansen Football Performance Center, in Iowa City, Iowa.

“He’s my best friend, and I’m his best friend,” Landan told the Register this spring.

“We get sick of each other sometimes. But we can’t hold a grudge.”

The Paulsens are so alike, so synced with their personalities and mannerisms, that Polasek will often address the wrong one in film sessions. Levi wears No. 66 and Landan No. 68. They line up on opposite sides of center Tyler Linderbaum. So, on the field, it’s not a problem for Polasek.

Get the brothers out of their uniforms and sitting at a desk, however …

“We confuse Coach all the time,” Levi Paulsen said. “He’ll be looking at me, yelling at me” and then get exasperated when he realizes he should be speaking to Landan. “He’ll be like, ‘Why do you guys look the same?’”

Levi Paulsen said he realized he knew nothing about football when he arrived at Iowa. He had to learn what opposing defenders were doing before he could figure out how he was supposed to combat them. But he picked up on things a little faster than Landan and has played in 34 games.

The sport began to change for Landan Paulsen a year ago when longtime NFL offensive line coach Tony Wise came to Iowa City and started imparting some wisdom to the Hawkeyes.

Iowa offensive lineman Landan Paulsen poses for a photo during Hawkeyes football media day, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at the University of Iowa outdoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa.

“From that moment on, I kind of saw Landan start to develop. The game really slowed down for him,” Levi Paulsen said.

“He’s able to see looks. He’s able to read techniques. He’s not just doing the fundamentals. He’s playing conceptual football.”

And that got Landan Paulsen a starting job after appearing in 15 games. He seems entrenched at the left guard spot. It’s Levi who will have to try to hold off last year’s starter at right guard, Banwart, when he’s back from his injury. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz even indicated Tuesday that the competition for the guard spots will last through the first month of the season.

Either way, the Paulsens will certainly play a big role in the makeup of Iowa’s offensive line, given their years of experience.

“They’re great guys to be around,” starting left tackle Alaric Jackson said. “Motivation-wise, they help me on and off the field.”

The Paulsens aren’t technically in a battle for the same guard spot. That makes things easier for the two. But Levi left no doubt what has motivated him throughout his college career.

“As much as I want the starting spot, he does, too. And it’s kind of a back-and-forth race. In school. In football.  And in everyday life. I just want to be better than him,” Levi Paulsen said of his brother, roommate and once and future business partner.

“It’s my nature. I’m a competitive guy. So to have him as a teammate and have him there with me every day and every day when we go back home to our house, it’s good. It keeps a level head on both of us and we can talk about what went on during the day.”

What will go on Saturday is that both Paulsens will start for the Hawkeyes. You can bet they’ll have plenty to talk about after that one.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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