Hawkeye Punters Hoping Psychology Leads to Better Results

August 15, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Colten Rastetter’s inconsistencies last season frustrated everybody involved with Iowa football. Nobody was more annoyed that him.

He carried each poor punt with him into his next attempt. They piled up and weighed heavily on him. His mind was a mess.

Enter sports psychologist Dr. Carmen Tebbe Priebe. She worked with him and the rest of the specialists during the offseason.

These guys have a lot of time to think. Punter, kicker, long snapper, they hang out until called upon at unknown but often infrequent times during the game. If something goes wrong, it can linger during the next period of downtime.

Rastetter’s 37.8-yard average on 55 attempts a year ago ranked 106 out of 107 FBS punters that qualified. Ball State’s Nathan Snyder was last at 37.3.

“It was really frustrating,” Rastetter said. “I had a decent fall camp last year and the spring before that. Then during the season, I had a lot of ups and downs. The mental game played a big part in that.”

Ryan Gersonde was brought in on scholarship before last season to compete with Rastetter. He managed a 42.5 average on 12 punts as a true freshman before injuries derailed him late in the year.

While average remains the stat most often cited to rate punters, it’s not that way at Iowa. The coaches care about field position. However one does it, pin the opponent inside its own 20.

That wasn’t a strength last year, either. Of the 68 combined punts for Rastetter and Gersonde, only 13 of them put the opposition inside the 20. Quarterback Nate Stanley punted three times and two of them forced the opponent inside the 20.

Rastetter and Gersonde see brighter days ahead. They have Tebbe Priebe and a coach, LeVar Woods, dedicated to just special teams for the first time. Now, they need to beat each other out for the starting spot.

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“It’s still up in the air. We’re still working through that,” Woods said at Friday’s media day. “But I think the guys’ approach has been very, very good. We’re working on consistency and I think that’s improved. That’s shown up a little more than it had even through spring.”

Woods took over as the full-time special teams coach this offseason after tutoring tight ends the last three years and linebackers before that. He’s increased the amount of filming dedicated to special teams in practice. It’s allowed the specialists to view more material during film study. They keep journals containing all the reps and how they felt about each one.

“I think it’s great. I think he really likes it. He’s been doing a great job of getting a lot more film of us, breaking it down, frame by frame. Every little detail counts. We’re doing a lot of mental work with him and (Tebbe Priebe). I really think he’s brought us together as a unit and made us a lot more consistent, which was the goal for this year,” Gersonde said.

Woods also is looking to replace three-year starting long-snapper Tyler Kluver, who graduated. Jackson Subbert and Nate Vejvoda are the leading candidates.

“Whoever wins that job, it’s going to be their first game whenever they go in there. But both of them are fully capable of getting it done,” Woods said.

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That makes whoever wins the punting job the veteran in the relationship with the long snapper. Rastetter and Gersonde, whose lockers are next to each other, both say it’s a friendly competition. They coach each other and with them both being left-footed, it’s easier to relate to their critiques.

“I’m more focused on being as consistent as I can be and not really looking at what the other guy is doing. You just try to be the best punter you can be to help the team. So, it’s not really cut-throat,” Gersonde said.

Consistency is a common word among the specialists and Woods. Everyone is trying to find it.

Woods believes it can be located with repetitions, muscle memory. A strong mental approach also plays a role. That’s where Tebbe Priebe comes in.

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The first time she met with Rastetter, she had him tell her his life story. She wanted to learn as much about him as she could.

“She took it and ran with it. She created a template for me and we just built off of that each week. Then, the whole specialist team meets with her as a group once a week. We all have the same thoughts and feelings so it really helps,” he said.

Rastetter formed a new practice routine based on his meetings with Tebbe Priebe. They found out his bad kicks stayed with him too long. He began stepping away after each punt, taking a deep breath and then getting back into position.

“I’m just focusing on what I can control, doing my job and taking one rep at a time. If I hit a bad one, step away, breathe and come back in. It’s one rep,” he said.

Tebbe Priebe reviewed what the specialists do on the sidelines during games. She tried to get them into a comfortable routine while they’re waiting their turn. It keeps them in the moment instead of getting lost in their thoughts.

They believe it’s working.

“I feel like I’m a lot more consistent. I feel like our specialist group is more consistent, which is awesome. We’re not perfect. We’re not where we want to be yet but we’ve made a lot of strides since last year,” Gersonde said.

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