Leistikow: Remember Keith Duncan, the hero of Iowa's win over Michigan in 2016? Don't forget about him.
As Keith Duncan wheeled his golf cart toward the No. 8 green at the Wakonda Club, the booming audio from a temporary video board nearby was hard to miss. As part of the day’s Polk County I-Club golf outing, a promotional video was playing (on a continuous loop) memorable moments in Hawkeye football history.
Duncan then couldn’t help but grin as Gary Dolphin’s radio call narrated the field goal that lifted Iowa past Michigan in 2016.
“The kick is on the wayyyyy. ... It’s good! It’s good!”
Duncan, as every Hawkeye fan who stormed the Kinnick Stadium field that Saturday night probably is aware, delivered that clutch, 33-yard winning kick to stun the heavily-favored Wolverines, 14-13, in Iowa City.
“Something I’ll never forget,” Duncan said.
Yet he knows he became a forgotten man of sorts in Iowa’s kicking game last year.
Duncan in 2016: Conquering, walk-on hero.
Duncan in 2017: Did not play a lick.
“I guess the misconception would be, ‘Oh what happened to you last year?’” Duncan said. “It wasn’t that.”
In fact, Duncan said all his offseason numbers improved — distance, accuracy, body weight. He just got beat out by Miguel Recinos, who ended up having a terrific 2017 season while solely handling Iowa’s kickoffs and placements.
“I had a good camp. Miguel, he just knocked it out of the park,” Duncan said. “He kicked 90 percent, which is almost unheard of. He’s a great kicker. He’s a really good friend.”
So, Duncan — who converted nine of 11 field goals and 38 of 39 PATs as a fearless true freshman in 2016 — took a red-shirt season.
Forgotten, maybe a little; but certainly not gone.
In the last year, he’s put on 20 pounds of “good weight.” It’s easy to see the difference. He looks like a more burly version of the walk-on most of us last saw 18 months ago in the Jan. 2, 2017, Outback Bowl.
On the morning of the golf outing last week, he said his weigh-in was 179.3 pounds.
When he arrived at Iowa from Weddington, North Carolina, in 2016 he weighed "149 or 150."
The added weight has improved his distance and confidence, he said. In 2016, he was the short-distance ace (typically 40 yards and in), while Recinos tried the long ones (going 1-for-3). As a freshman, if Duncan was practicing a 50-yard kick, he might have to change his approach to get the distance; now, he kicks a 50-yarder the same way he would a 33-yarder to beat Michigan.
“That whole year was improvement,” he said. “It was not a step back.”
Another thing that happened during his “year off” that wasn’t a year off?
He saw Recinos (of Mason City) go from walk-on to scholarship player, the news coming during Iowa's preparation for the Pinstripe Bowl.
“That’s part of the Iowa culture. You can’t come in and, ‘OK, you did a couple things. Here’s a scholarship.’ You’ve got to earn it,” Duncan said. “Miguel’s been here for a while, and he’s earned it.
“He’s not paying tuition anymore. Hopefully that’s (me) one day."
It would have tempting for him — or his parents, Stuart and Jennifer, back in North Carolina — to get frustrated or choose a less-pricey college path.
Two small-business owners who work out of their home have been borrowing money to pay the $35,000 to $40,000 a year it takes for their son to be enrolled at Iowa.
Do the math, and as Duncan heads into Year 3 as a walk-on — we’re talking a six-figure expenditure already.
Stuart Duncan said that while that kind of financial commitment "does create some stress … we committed to Iowa and will honor that commitment."
Keith Duncan is grateful to his parents for the money; grateful to head coach Kirk Ferentz for the roster spot.
“He knows the kind of program that coach Ferentz and (strength) coach (Chris) Doyle run,” Duncan said of his father. “He knows they’re not only turning me into a good football player, they’re turning me into a good man. That’s well worth the money they’re paying, and they know that, too.”
One of the reasons Duncan came to Iowa was because of the "intense" alumni he saw in nearby Charlotte. He also had a grandfather who lived in Clive for 16 years providing intel.
“Whether I stay in Iowa after I graduate or go somewhere else, there’s always going to be Iowa alumni there that will always be there for you,” Duncan said. “It’s a really close-knit community."
Basically: He loves it in Iowa City.
But he doesn't want to just be a one-year wonder in football.
Recinos will be a fifth-year senior this fall; Duncan will be a third-year sophomore. Even if Recinos retains the job, Duncan, 20, would still have two years of eligibility — in 2019 and 2020. Walk-on Caleb Shudak, a redshirt sophomore from Council Bluffs, is also part of Iowa's place-kicking stew.
But Duncan’s mindset is to be the No. 1 guy this year for special-teams coach LeVar Woods.
“The best guy’s going to win the job, and we know that. We’re all trying to win games,” Duncan said. “It’s not a me-vs.-Miguel kind of thing, or a me-vs.-Caleb-and-Miguel thing. But Coach Woods said if you’re on scholarship, you can start. If you’re a walk-on, you can start.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.