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Iowa's Keith Duncan reaches out to all who helped memorable Hawkeye season happen

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Gary Harrison-Ducros is soon going to get a letter at his Texas home letting him know he is responsible for creating an all-American placekicker at Iowa.

Keith Duncan is that kicker, and the author of the letter.

In eighth grade, Duncan was obsessed with soccer and thought that sport was his future. Football was not in his plans.

Until Harrison-Ducros, the father of Duncan’s best friend, Reid, sat him down in his living room one day.

“He literally had a slide show that said, ‘This is why we need a kicker. This could be you,’” Duncan recalled Tuesday as his Hawkeyes prepared to face USC in Friday’s Holiday Bowl. “He went through some NFL kickers and some college kickers.

“He’s honestly the reason I started kicking.”

Keith Duncan (3) has celebrated 29 made field goals this season with his holder, Colten Rastetter (7). So when the Iowa kicker was a finalist for the Lou Groza award, he made sure to have Rastetter and long-snapper Jackson Subbert by his side for the ceremony in Atlanta.

Harrison-Ducros was, in a sense, the first recruiter Duncan ever had. He was looking for someone to kick for his son’s middle school football team. He got that. Duncan got much more.

Duncan is doing plenty of reflecting these days after a season that deserves its own slide show. The Hawkeye junior wanted Harrison-Ducros to know how much he’s been a part of it, even if he didn’t realize it.

Duncan has made 29 of 34 field goals to set a Big Ten Conference record. He’s also perfect on 25 extra point attempts. That’s 112 points he’s contributed to the No. 19 Hawkeyes (9-3), who have scored 286 in all.

It started in that Texas living room. It continued in high school in Weddington, North Carolina, then as a walk-on at Iowa. And through two seasons in which Duncan lost his starting job to Miguel Recinos.

When Duncan reclaimed his spot this season, he soared.

There was only one moment of drama, Duncan said. That came Nov. 23 at Kinnick Stadium, when Duncan missed two first-half field goals against Illinois. He had only one miss all year entering that game.

Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes were leading 10-7 when Duncan was asked to try a 45-yarder just before halftime. It was his most difficult attempt, and not just because of the weather.

“Putting points on the board going into halftime was huge, and having my mindset that I can make a kick under pressure, in bad conditions,” Duncan said. “That was the only game this year I felt really mentally challenged, just kind of going into a kick. Not second-guessing myself, but saying, this is a big kick, especially in a low-scoring game like that.”

Duncan made that kick, then hit the game-winner the next week at Nebraska. That’s the one that got all the attention, especially after he blew kisses at the Cornhusker sideline while celebrating.

After that, Duncan was on the awards circuit. He was a finalist for the Lou Groza trophy given to the nation’s best kicker. That was handed out in Atlanta, and Duncan made sure he brought two special guests. Jackson Subbert has been on target all season as Iowa’s long-snapper. Colten Rastetter has perfectly placed the football at Duncan’s feet as the holder.

Duncan wanted both of them at his side in Atlanta. His father, Stuart, picked up the tab. No other kicker made that gesture.

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“It says a lot about Keith Duncan, first and foremost, that he would even think about others,” said Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods, who got emotional just talking about it. “I told those three guys down in Atlanta one of my great joys as a player, as a coach, was just watching them be kids … and having fun and just enjoying the moment.”

The group went out for some buffalo burgers before the ceremony. They browsed the shops in a German neighborhood.

Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship won the Groza. Duncan won the moment.

“If I had won the award, they would have deserved it as much as I have,” Duncan said of Rastetter and Subbert. “The Lou Groza award to me is a team award or a group award. They have done so much. Maybe it’s not recognized, but they are a crucial factor in the success of the field-goal unit.”

Duncan didn’t come up empty-handed this month, though. He was named the 26th consensus all-American in Hawkeye history. His portrait will be forever enshrined in the Iowa football complex alongside the likes of Desmond King, Brandon Scherff, Josey Jewell … and former Hawkeye kicker Nate Kaeding.

Duncan said he hasn’t had time to think about that honor.

“I guess my ugly face is going to be up there sometime,” joked the always-affable Duncan, who stands 5-foot-10, 180 pounds and doesn’t resemble your prototypical football star.

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“I told (Iowa strength) coach (Chris) Doyle I may be the only consensus all-American to not be able to bench 225 (pounds). I told him I’m working on that.”

Duncan has one more season as a Hawkeye to try to earn that Lou Groza. He said his success has not surprised him.

“I definitely had that mentality, even as a freshman. I will always have the mentality like, ‘I can do that,’” Duncan said. “I’ll never back down from a challenge.”

All he needed was a convincing sales pitch from his middle school buddy’s dad. Duncan made sure the rest has been history.

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

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