Iowa football specialists Caleb Shudak, Austin Spiewak returning for 2021 season

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The good news keeps coming for the 2021 Iowa football team.

Two crucial special-teams players are planning to return for their sixth-year senior seasons, the Register has learned.

Starting long snapper Austin Spiewak and placekicker Caleb Shudak will return, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of their decisions. The two are roommates and are excited to be on the field together this year, one of the sources said.

Nobody knows more than the Hawkeyes and 22nd-year head coach Kirk Ferentz how valuable a good kicking game can be.

In 2019, placekicker Keith Duncan was a consensus all-American after converting a Big Ten Conference-record 29 field goals.

In 2020, punter Tory Taylor was named a freshman all-American and the Big Ten's punter of the year.

Caleb Shudak will be in line to replace all-American Keith Duncan as Iowa's placekicker for the 2021 season.

But now Iowa faces life after Duncan, who was fantastic during five years at Iowa. And Shudak's return couldn't be better news. Ferentz has repeatedly reported that Shudak was neck-and-neck with Duncan in a kicking battle prior to the 2019 season. Duncan barely got the nod and ended up being so reliable (52 of 63 on field goals in his Iowa career, including perfect from inside 30 yards and multiple game-winners) that Shudak never got a regular chance at placements.

However, Shudak (5-foot-8, 178 pounds) has been Iowa's excellent kickoff man each of the last two years. The son of former Iowa State kicker Jeff Shudak and Council Bluffs native has a slightly stronger leg than Duncan.

Spiewak, meanwhile, gives Iowa a sense of reliability in the kick and punt games. The senior from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, was Iowa's starter last season.

They join two fellow senior starters Matt Hankins (a four-year cornerback) and Zach VanValkenburg (a second-team all-Big Ten defensive end) who also would have otherwise used up their eligibility who are choosing to return in 2021. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 season didn't count as a year of eligibility for any players.

Iowa also got a big boost with center Tyler Linderbaum, a Rimington Trophy finalist, announcing he would return for his fourth year at Iowa.

Hawkeye players return to campus this week for winter conditioning workouts.