Tory Taylor is a long way from home, and he feels it sometimes.
The Iowa sophomore punter, who is from Melbourne, Australia, hasn’t been able to get home since he arrived last summer because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
He thought he would be able to go home after Christmas, but that didn’t happen.
He was hoping to go home after the semester ends in May, but that’s not going to happen.
Instead, he’s made himself comfortable in Iowa City, playing a game he admits he still is learning.
“Everyone is here has really made me feel welcome,” Taylor said earlier this week. “This is almost like my home now. I’m used to it. Although the days are hard here or there, it’s all worth it in the end, especially when it comes to game day.”
But for somebody still learning, Taylor made an impact last season, winning the Big Ten’s punter of the year award while being a first-team all-conference selection.
It was Taylor’s first year of playing American football, playing in front of mostly-empty stadiums. He still admits learning the intricacies of the game — there was that punt off the turf of the football that he had dropped during the regular-season finale that drew him a penalty flag — but he ranked third in the Big Ten and 20th nationally with a punting average of 44.1 yards. He dropped 18 of his 40 punts inside the 20-yard line, nine inside the 10.
“Probably the biggest thing is I know I can do it,” Taylor said. “Like anyone, you always have a few doubts. I had never played the game before. I was kind of thinking like, ‘Oh, is this me? Can I do this?’ But think the biggest thing for me is that, yeah, now that I know I can do it, now it’s more about improving and getting better. There are so many facets of the game that I can improve on and get better.”
“I think he kind of burst on the scene last year,” said special teams coordinator LeVar Woods. “Statistically, he was really good. Technically, he’s got some things to clean up. And that’s what we’ve been focused on here this spring.”
It is still an education. Taylor said he charted every punt last season, analyzing what went right and what didn’t. He hit just one spiral punt, in a game against Penn State, something he and Woods said was going to be a focus in the spring.
“I’ve learned a lot, and I’m obviously learning a lot during practice,” Taylor said.“I’m always asking questions but, honestly, I didn’t grow up playing the game. So I doubt I’ll fully know all of the rules that go with playing American football. I’m trying to keep things simple for myself. I try to simplify it as much as I can.”
Just seeing an American football field was part of the education, but Woods said it didn’t take Taylor long to get comfortable.
“Tory’s made incredible sacrifices, incredible personal sacrifices to be here,” Woods said. “He quarantined for three weeks over in Australia (before coming to Iowa). Gets to America, has to quarantine for two more weeks before even meeting his teammates.
“Just seeing him work for the first time, the wonder in his eyes, the excitement in his eyes. And then he rips off the first ball, hits an end-over-end punt that hits out of bounds at the 2-yard line. And then he hits another one that bounces out at the 1-yard line. Tory’s like, ‘Coach, is this good, is this what you want?’”
There will be another progression to his career — he’ll punt in front of fans for the first time this season. He came to Iowa knowing of the fan support within the program and within the Big Ten, but games last season were played in front of mostly family and friends.
It will be a new look to a home he’s still getting to know.
“I guess it’s kind of awkward when the punter goes out there, because no one, I guess, really wants you out there,” Taylor said. “Personally, I love to be out there, but if I’m out there, it’s actually not a good time for the team. I think, in regards to fans, I’m actually really excited.
“I’m not really nervous about it. But yeah, ask me on (game) day, to be honest.”