Hawkeye punters seek to get a leg up in position battle
IOWA CITY, Ia. — To be a punter is to be obsessed with the wind. Its direction, its velocity, what it can potentially do to a football as it leaves your hand or foot.
Listen to Ron Coluzzi, who is attempting to become the starting punter at Iowa after transferring from Central Michigan:
“I actually had to research the wind at Central Michigan. It’s in between three Great Lakes, Mount Pleasant, the city, so the wind from each lake comes off and it creates a vortex, which causes the wind to change direction every five to seven minutes. Here, the wind is pretty consistent in one direction. But with the flat plateaus and you get hills and valleys in certain areas. Iowa gets pretty crazy wind, too.”
Is that an athlete speaking or a meteorologist?
Here’s more, courtesy of Hawkeye redshirt freshman Colten Rastetter, who is battling Coluzzi for the spot:
“My biggest deal is the crosswind because it messes up my drop. Then if you kick into the wind, I can do that, but it’s still difficult. And then with the wind at your back, some people like it, but it’s still pretty tricky.”
So the wind can cause headaches if it’s blowing side to side, straight into your face or even from behind?
“If you have your drop just a little bit off, that wind can come between your arm and your body and kind of move your ball over,” Rastetter confirmed.
This is the stuff that keeps punters up at night. Not having a punter who can thrive despite those elements can cause some sleeplessness for coaches.
So Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is keeping a watchful eye on Coluzzi and Rastetter this month, hoping one emerges and replaces the graduated Dillon Kidd. Kidd averaged a respectable 40.2 yards per punt last season, with only one blocked. The Hawkeyes could do better, but they also could do much worse.
So far, Ferentz is encouraged by what he’s seen.
“The week was pretty good overall,” Ferentz said Aug. 13 after his team’s Kids Day scrimmage, during which neither punter took a live snap. “Colten continues to show, I think, good potential. Consistency is his challenge. And then Ron, he acts like an older guy. He’s been through the wars. He kind of understands the ups and downs a little bit. We have a pretty good one-two punch.”
Coluzzi is the intriguing newcomer in camp. He is the presumed front-runner to handle both punting and kickoff duties. He averaged 39.2 yards per punt for the Chippewas last season and graduated with one year of eligibility left. The Illinois native said his lifelong dream was to play in the Big Ten Conference, and he knew Iowa was in search of a new punter, so here he is.
“We had a system where we did a lot of rollout punts, kind of a like a rugby punt, and that may help or hurt your average,” Coluzzi said of his Central Michigan statistics. “If you’re doing a lot of pooch kicks — because your field-goal kicker may not be able to get it deep or if it’s really, really windy — that might also affect your average.”
Coluzzi’s career highlight so far has been being plowed over by a Purdue punt returner in 2014. He brings this up without being asked, aware that it’s a YouTube staple. It was that injury that prompted Central Michigan to replace the injured Coluzzi as a field-goal kicker, and he never regained that job.
“It was a very humbling experience as a player. It knocks you off your high horse and you learn to laugh at it, laugh at yourself and grow as a person,” Coluzzi said. “I couldn’t really adjust that week in practice, so I just focused on punting and kickoffs. Everything happens for a reason, and it led me to come here.”
Rastetter, a Guttenberg native, has a strong leg, but acknowledged that he doesn’t always get the height and distance he’s capable of. He said he often has two strong punts, but follows up with a mishit.
“Mechanically, he’s inconsistent. I don’t think he was one of those guys who was a punter throughout his life,” Iowa special teams coach Chris White said. “He’s just trying to figure out the mechanics of it, his body, how to change things, how to make things right. But he has a Division I leg.”
Rastetter had a good showing in Iowa’s spring game and hope to build on that.
“I could kind of open my eyes like ‘Hey, this is you, this is your time,’” Rastetter said of spring practices. “The whole spring kind of was like a learning process for me like, ‘All right, I’ve got to take this day by day, punt by punt and just improve.
“Whatever my first step is like, that determines my punt. If I cross over, it’s not going to be a good punt. But if I have everything smooth, first, second, third step and my drop, that’s my ‘A’ ball. I’ve just got to narrow that down and do it every time. That’s the hard part.”
White said he’d like to identify a starting punter before Iowa’s Sept. 3 opener against Miami of Ohio. But it’s possible that both Coluzzi and Rastetter will keep auditioning throughout the season’s early weeks, their fortunes shifting with the wind that they so closely monitor.