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Howe: Keith Duncan’s Never-Wavering, Hawkeye Commitment

September 16, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – He could have left. Other programs would have welcomed him. He’d proven himself.

That option never entered his mind, however.

Kicker Keith Duncan became a Hawkeye when he accepted a walk-on chance late in the recruiting process. He’d been committed to Furman as a member of its 2016 class before Iowa came calling. When he chose the Big Ten school, in his head, it was for life.

He showed that the last two years. After winning the job as a true freshman, Miguel Recinos beat him out for two seasons. Instead of entering the popular transfer portal, he focused on improvement, pushed his teammate as best he could.

Look, changing schools shouldn’t be frowned upon. These athletes give up their bodies and much of their freedom for a billion dollar industry where the coaches and schools make millions. Their time in college is fleeting.

That said, admire Duncan’s story of sticking it out. And that’s even easier to do after his performance during Iowa’s 18-17 win at rival Iowa State Saturday. It earned him Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors Monday.

The North Carolina native connected on all four of his field goal attempts in a game in which points proved scarce. He improved to 8 for 8 on the season for the 3-0 and 18th-ranked Hawkeyes. Duncan has answered the call after Iowa graduated a reliable kicker in Recinos.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Hawkeye having more fun. Duncan is one of those people always smiling, always lifting people up around him, always thankful for his place in life.

He told a story during the spring about buying eggs last year only to see them eaten a dozen at a time by roommate and former Hawkeye all-American tight end T.J. Hockenson. While others would have been annoyed in their food being scarfed up, Duncan relished the opportunity in helping his friend, who ended up as the eighth overall pick in April’s NFL Draft.

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“I would have never gotten to buy T.J.’s eggs had a left,” he said with a grin Saturday.

Duncan kicked his way into hearts of Hawkeye fans back in ’16. His 33-yard field goal as time expired provided the difference in a 14-13 upset of then No. 3 and previously unbeaten Michigan. His teammates carried him off the field.

He connected on 9 of his 11 attempts that season after beating out Recinos for the job. That motivated the latter, who won the spot the next summer. He then held it for two years, earning all-Big Ten honorable mention laurels as a senior.

Duncan called that period the “growing years.”

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“It was different sitting on the sidelines, but it was great to grow behind a phenomenal kicker like Miguel. He had a great career here,” Duncan said.

He credited Recinos with pushing he and Caleb Shudak, who competed against him this offseason. Duncan won a very close race for the right to handle field goals. Shudak is kicking off.

Duncan’s resiliency and willingness to stay and battle showed great character. He didn’t look at being beat out as a blow to his ego after kicking the game-winner against Michigan, he viewed it as a learning experience.

“It’s humbling but I never walked around like I was the head honcho. I respected Miguel. I respect Caleb. Miguel won the job and rightfully so,” Duncan said.

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That maturity has gone long way at such a high-pressure position. Despite sloppy field conditions and big stakes in Ames Saturday, Duncan looked calm, cool and collected.

He prepared for succeeding in that position during the last two years instead of hanging his head or hitting the road.

“He’s a great guy,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said after Iowa State. “He’s one of my close friends. His mindset is if he makes a decision, he’s going to stick it out and he’s going to do something. It’s special to see him make those field goals and help us win this game.”

He soaked up the moment Saturday night, surrounded by the media during the postgame press conference. He looked happy to be right where he was.

“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” he said.

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