Football Notes: Hawkeyes Expect Stiff Competition Among Specialists
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Folks like to joke on social media that Iowa signing a graduate-transfer punter perfectly encapsulates the program’s image. Some of them offer up the phrase, “Punting is winning.”
What makes stereotypes funny are that they include truth. So, the Hawkeyes adding Michael Sleep-Dalton from Arizona State on Wednesday holds importance for a team that performs its best when all three phases are humming.
Sleep-Dalton, who joined preps Jermari Harris and Taajhir McCall in signing with Iowa during the late period, could impact the program the earliest. The Hawkeyes are coming off two seasons with sub-par punting results.
Iowa also will be searching this offseason for a new starting place-kicker and someone to kick off, both jobs held down by the graduating Miguel Recinos the last two years. Like the punter position, three candidates will be competing for the spot.
“It’s like anytime we add a new player, they’re welcome to come in and compete, whether you’re an incoming freshman or older guy, grad transfer guy or Mekhi last year as a junior college transfer. So whoever is out on the field will compete and that’s where jobs really get decided,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Joining Sleep-Dalton, who arrives at Iowa in May, in the punter competition will be returning two-year starter Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde. The Hawkeyes are looking to improve upon a unit that last season ranked 107th out of 129 FBS schools in net punting (35.54), down from 89th (36.93) in 2017.
Sleep-Dalton, who spoke with HN after verbally committing, averaged 43.8 yards per punt last season with 10 punts traveling 50 yards or more, 19 punts inside the 20 and 20 fair catches.
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“We’re hardly giving up on Colten and hardly giving up on Ryan. Both those guys are right in the thick of it. And I really think – I haven’t seen Michael yet in person performing – but I think both of those guys are capable. It’s just a matter of when it’s going to happen for them,” Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes return kickers Caleb Shudak and Keith Duncan, who started for Iowa as a true freshman in ’16 and then was beaten out by Recinos. They’re also bringing in walk-on Lucas Amaya from Wisconsin.
“Just like the punter, the guys on campus have the first shot at it and best shot at it. But whoever joins our team, we’ve got until the end of August, really, to figure this whole thing out. So it will be an open competition,” Ferentz said.
Recinos connected on 28 of 35 field goal attempts the last two seasons, including 8 of 8 from 40-49 yards last year. Half of his 78 kickoffs were touchbacks.
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NOTHING NEW ON NIXON: Ferentz said last month that sophomore defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon was “considering his options right now. We’ll see where that all goes.” The coach added that he came from Iowa Western Community College with some conditions he had to meet.
Wednesday, Ferentz was asked for an update on Nixon.
“We’re still hoping he’ll be on our football team here. That’s our goal and our hopes, yep. We’ll just let time dictate,” the coach said.
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NOT DONE YET?: The Hawkeyes will continue looking for pieces that can help them next season. That pursuit could extend into the spring and summer.
They’ve added running backs the last two years during the summer. James Butler arrived as a graduate transfer in ’17 and Mekhi Sargent showed up from Iowa Western last June.
“We still have some spots open with our roster right now, so we’ll continue to explore all possibilities and avenues that we can and do it just as if we would with normal recruiting to make sure that we’re looking at players that we think will fit well with our program and the things that we deem to be important,” Ferentz said.
“So we’ll just see how that pans out. We’ll continue to be active in that regard. And I probably won’t have anything to report on that until we get going here in June.”
EXTRA-POINTS: The four Iowa underclassmen (Anthony Nelson, Noah Fant, Amani Hooker and T.J. Hockenson) heading to the NFL all have been invited to this month’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, Ferentz said…the Hawkeyes will kick off spring practice during the last week of March. They anticipate wrapping up the period during the last week of April but have not set a date for the spring game/open practice at Kinnick Stadium…James Daniels and Josh Jackson, who left the program last year as juniors, are back in town training at the facility. Daniels is taking classes in person and Jackson doing so on-line…freshman walk-on Ben Subbert has moved from tight end to defensive line.