IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tyler Kluver has been a three-year starter for the Iowa football team, and chances are you’ve never noticed him.
That’s how well he’s done his job. If you had noticed him, it would be to curse him.
Kluver is the long-snapper, the guy who initiates punts and field goals and points after touchdowns, all while looking at the field backwards and upside down, peering between his legs in a quiet moment before the chaos of the sport erupts once more.
“I enjoy the role on the team. There’s a lot of pros to it. I don’t get hit a lot. I don’t have to run as much,” Kluver says with good humor, sounding like a guy who spends much of his time looking at the world from a unique angle.
Kluver was on the field for 131 plays last season, and he was on target with each of his snaps. He had nary a mishap as a sophomore, either. That’s the kind of consistency any coach would enjoy. It’s been a luxury for the Hawkeyes — one less thing to worry about.
(We should mention that Kluver wears No. 97, in case you want to take a moment to acknowledge his efforts in Iowa’s Sept. 2 season opener against Wyoming).
Kluver’s father, Todd, was a center for the Hawkeyes in the 1980s. Tyler grew up aspiring to wear the black and gold. Not as a long-snapper of course. What kid dreams of that?
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“When you realize that you’re 5-foot-10 and slow in 10th grade, the D-I linebacker dream is over, probably. At least for me it was,” said Kluver, who was actually a very accomplished linebacker at Marshalltown High School, ranking second in career tackles with 315.
Kluver made a smart decision. He had been pressed into long-snapping duties as a freshman when the starter got injured. So he started attending camps designed for specialists. He found out he was quite good at it. By his senior year, he was an Under Armour all-American as a long-snapper.
That was his path to Iowa as a walk-on. His timing was perfect. Kluver arrived in time for the senior season of Casey Kreiter, a long-snapper so good that he’s now employed by the Denver Broncos. Kluver redshirted and bided his time.
In 2014, the starting job was Kluver’s. He’s held it ever since.
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“I like it as much as I can. It’s not like I wake up every day and say, ‘I’m ready to snap some footballs!’” Kluver laughs. “There are some times I’m like, ‘Man, I wish I was out on the field more.’ Because I’m used to that linebacker role in high school. It’s a really good gig, overall.”
And Kluver takes it seriously. At a recent practice session, he handled 55 punt snaps and another 32 for field goals.
It’s the workload that has allowed him to become so consistent.
“I have one thing; that’s all it is. So I just do it over and over and over again. So hopefully after enough reps you get somewhat decent at it,” Kluver said. “This year I want to keep myself to certain limits because at some point your back gets tired, your arms get tired.”
Kluver compares long-snapping to shooting free throws. Both require hours of solitary practice to make perfect once the competition starts and the pressure mounts.
He only keeps his eyes on the football for about 10 yards once he snaps it to his punter. Then he needs to raise his head and run downfield to prepare to make a tackle. But Kluver said he doesn’t need to see the ball to know whether it’s been delivered on target. He’s snapped it so often that he can tell before it leaves his hands.
For two years, it’s always been on target.
That includes Iowa’s biggest play from last season. Remember, it was Kluver who initiated Keith Duncan’s game-winning field goal against Michigan. He had done the same thing the season before when the Hawkeyes upended Pitt on a last-second field goal.
Keith Duncan's 33-yard field goal helped the Hawkeyes beat the previously undefeated Michigan Wolverines, 14-13, on Nov. 12, 2016. Duncan's entering his sophomore season in a battle at kicker with junior Miguel Recinos. Chad Leistikow/The Register
“I felt really confident,” Kluver said of Duncan’s kick. “Sam Brincks and a couple of guys that had been on the field-goal unit the year before, we were like, ‘Well, we’ve been here before.’ So I kind of laughed at it, tried to bring the mood down, not have anybody on a high edge. You still get nervous. There’s a lot riding on that.
“But in the end, it’s just a snap like I do out here every day. I’ve just got to block everything out. I gave (holder Ron Coluzzi) a decent snap. It wasn’t a perfect snap, but the laces were out, which was the most important thing. And then Keith did the rest.”
Duncan, a freshman, was soon planted beneath a pile of celebrating Hawkeyes.
Kluver, the savvy veteran, knew better.
“I learned from the Pitt year not to do that, so I ran the other way,” Kluver said.
You probably didn’t notice that either.