Iowa punter Ron Coluzzi embraces last 'hoo-rah'
TAMPA, Fla. — If Ron Coluzzi doesn’t make it as an NFL punter, he should host a talk show.
He could call it “Hang Time With Ron Coluzzi.”
You know you’d watch.
The loquacious and off-kilter Hawkeye senior met with the media one last time Friday to discuss his team’s Monday date with Florida in the Outback Bowl here (noon, ABC).
Among the topics on Coluzzi’s free-range mind: His time in the Florida sun and on the ice; the important role that he and Florida punter Johnny Townsend could have in Monday’s outcome; why he feels responsible for his younger brother being a long-snapper; his regrettable previous bowl-game experience and a potential pro future.
“I kind of just act the way I’ve been acting since I was a little kid, free-hearted and just going about life as a big adventure,” Coluzzi said. “Our job is so difficult and performing the same task over and over again is so hard to do. Because nobody’s perfect and the human anatomy is built on defining that it’s not perfect. It’s something that plays to our advantage if we’re a little different.”
“Different” is an understatement when applied to Coluzzi. The Illinois native spent his first three college seasons at Central Michigan but wanted to find a bigger stage, so he landed at Iowa as a graduate transfer.
During his first interview on media day in August, Coluzzi interrupted a reporter’s question to inform him that he admired his shoes. He later regaled the media with stories about the football he constantly carries with him and that he named “Naomi.”
Punters are usually seen and not heard. Coluzzi was no ordinary punter. He became a media darling in his lone fall in Iowa City.
The attention was warranted.
Coluzzi averaged 41.2 yards per punt, 20 times pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line. Only nine of his 68 punts were returned. He also handled kickoff duties and was the holder and mentor for freshman kicker Keith Duncan, making him a key figure in the last-play 33-yard field goal that lifted the Hawkeyes past Michigan on Nov. 12.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called Coluzzi one of the team’s “unsung heroes” earlier this week.
Coluzzi said he’s grateful for the opportunity that Iowa gave him, saying it was “10 times better” than his expectations when he left the Mid-American Conference to try his foot at life in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes arrived in Tampa on Monday, giving Coluzzi four days to prepare his opening line for the media Friday.
“The sun’s a little different down here,” Coluzzi said. “I feel like a stick of butter melting over a stack of flapjacks, to be honest with you. It’s been a fun hoo-rah.”
Well, there was Coluzzi’s appearance between periods of Thursday’s Tampa Bay Lightning game. He volunteered to join Hawkeye teammates George Kittle and Riley McCarron in a goofy competition against three Gators that involved riding a tricycle down the ice and tapping a short slapshot into the goal. Coluzzi missed on his first two shots and Iowa lost the event.
But Coluzzi has never been afraid to laugh at himself. He seems to prefer it.
“I missed two slapshots and then I looked like an idiot going down the ice on the tricycle, but it was a lot of fun,” he said.
Practice sessions had been held in 80-degree weather, until Friday, when the wind picked up and temperatures dipped below 60. Coluzzi said he was enjoying the way the football was booming off of his foot in the Florida warmth. Monday’s forecast calls for a high of 86 but also scattered thunderstorms.
The game shapes up as a defensive struggle, meaning Coluzzi and Townsend — who averaged an unbelievable 48 yards per punt — figure to be called upon often.
“I think every game you have to go in with that mentality. Everybody’s stressing the fact that both offenses aren’t performing as well as they wanted to or both defenses are absolutely phenomenal and punters are going to play a huge role in this game. That may be,” Coluzzi said. “Or something may happen that we get a lot of explosive plays and we end up being up 40-10. No one really knows.”
It will be a much different atmosphere than Coluzzi’s previous postseason experience, in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl as a Central Michigan sophomore. That game was played in a steady breeze and Coluzzi averaged only 19.3 yards on his four punts. Central Michigan lost to Western Kentucky 49-48.
“I didn’t do the best that game. It was hard to perform well,” Coluzzi said. “But I was young and I’ve learned a lot since then.”
He gets another bowl-game shot in his Hawkeye finale. But it might not be the last Iowa fans see of the Coluzzi name. Younger brother Marshall is one of the nation’s top long-snappers among high school seniors and is considering a walk-on opportunity at Iowa.
A punter and a long-snapper in the same family? It’s no coincidence, Ron Coluzzi sheepishly admitted.
“I’m not really proud of it. I kind of made him do it when we were kids and he’d snap to me in the backyard when we were like 8 years old,” he said. “He got really good at it.
“I think he’s learned a couple of things from me when it comes to discipline and having a drive to do something, but he did all the work on his own. I’m so proud of him.”
Coluzzi’s post-Outback Bowl plans are to move into his cousin’s condominium in Plainfield, Ill., and to work at J.B. Hunt transportation company in nearby Joliet. He has a double-major in marketing and logistics management.
But Coluzzi won’t just be a working stiff. In his off hours, he plans to train for a shot at the NFL, punting with his coach Nick Iovinelli, lifting weights and running. He will participate in Iowa’s Pro Day and then wait for an NFL team to invite him to a minicamp.
“I’ve got to get a little more consistent. I have time to do that,” Coluzzi said. “Just being able to tell my kids I got to go to a camp would be really cool.
“I’m not really worrying about that right now. I’m just focused on performing my best in the bowl game and for my teammates and the fans at the University of Iowa. They have great fans and they deserve a great punter.”