IOWA CITY, Iowa – The first time I saw Marshall Koehn kick a football, it seemed almost like an afterthought to him.
That’s because he was busy doing so many other things for the Solon Spartan football team that night, including playing defensive back and receiver.
And when he wasn’t playing football, Koehn was either wrestling or playing baseball or soccer for the Spartans. He was a year-round athlete, who changed sports with the four seasons.
“I didn’t have a lot of time, honestly, to kick,” Koehn said on Tuesday. “Before practice and after practice I would try to get a few extra reps.
“But a lot of the time I was focusing on teams’ offenses and what their schemes were.”
Koehn is now on the verge of becoming the Iowa football team’s next great kicker, if he isn’t already. The former walk-on from Solon is in the midst of one of the greatest stretches for a kicker in the history of the Iowa program.
Koehn has made 15 of his last 16 attempts, including his now legendary 57-yard game-winner against Pittsburgh this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Koehn has reached this elite level even though he didn’t start focusing solely on kicking until college. He joined the Iowa football team as a talented and versatile athlete among whose gifts included a powerful right leg.
“I think it’s great to do as many sports as you can in high school,” Koehn said. “You hear about so many kids specializing. But I have so many great memories about every other sport. I think just being in different competitive environments I think is just great for any individual.”
I never would criticize an athlete who chooses to specialize in one sport because each his own. But I also agree with Koehn that playing multiple sports is the best route to take in high school.
You only get to attend high school once, so why not take advantage of all the opportunities because they won’t be there for most kids after they graduate.
The most obvious argument for specialization is that it limits distractions and allows an athlete to invest all of his or her time, energy and focus on one thing. The thinking is that an athlete would have a better chance of reaching his or her potential by practicing the same sport over and over.
In some cases, that might be true.
But on the flipside are cases in which athletes suffer from burnout after having their lives consumed by one focus and from repeating the same activities for an extended period.
“Variety is the spice of life” didn’t become a popular phrase and cliché by accident. It did so because it’s true.
Koehn knew at some point in high school that he wanted to kick for a college football team, preferably the Hawkeyes, who will play host to North Texas on Saturday. But he didn’t stop doing everything else in order to achieve that goal.
He stayed in great physical condition by playing multiple sports. He learned more about competition by facing it from different angles. And he interacted with different people from each different sport.
Koehn stayed busy doing multiple activities in high school, and yet look where he is now.
Playing multiple sports in high school also didn’t prevent Nate Kaeding from becoming arguably the greatest Hawkeye kicker ever. A 2000 graduate of Iowa City West High, Kaeding played football, basketball and soccer for the Trojans.
He didn’t start focusing solely on kicking until he became a Hawkeye. He struggled early in his first season at Iowa in 2000, but was almost automatic from within 50 yards during his last three seasons.
Koehn also struggled in his first two games last season. But just like Kaeding, he stayed the course and eventually became a force.
Kaeding’s rise to stardom as a kicker at Iowa and in the NFL has inspired Koehn.
“Nate has always been my favorite kicker, obviously, being an Iowa guy,” Koehn said. “I had a chance to work with him my senior year because when he was training for the NFL. Just being around him and my dream of always being a Hawkeye, it was a pretty easy decision to come here and be a kicker.”
Koehn’s game-winning field goal last Saturday brought back memories of 2008 when Daniel Murray made a last-second field goal to defeat third-ranked and undefeated Penn State at Kinnick Stadium.
Murray’s kick has been another source of inspiration for Koehn.
“Just in the summer I shared the Daniel Murray kick on Facebook and it’s something I’ve always kind of looked back on and look at sometimes because it gives you goose bumps because it’s a kicker’s dream to make a game-winning field goal and beat the number three-rated team in the country,” Koehn said. “Ironically, I just kind of pulled it out this past week. And then I was in the same exact position.”
Murray is similar to Koehn and Kaeding in that he also has local ties as a graduate of Iowa City Regina. They all three know each other and share a mutual respect.
“It’s pretty cool that we’re all pretty much local guys and we all know each other, too, which is cool,” Koehn said. “I think there are some good kickers around this area and I don’t think you have to go very far to find them. They’re here. It’s just a matter of finding the right guys.”
Koehn is humble and soft-spoken, but don’t let that fool you. He wouldn’t have made it this far as a kicker without having courage, self-confidence and, of course, a powerful right leg.
In addition to his 57-yard field goal, Koehn also punted rugby style for 64 yards against Pittsburgh. His ability as a punter has made Dillon Kidd a better punter simply out of fear of losing his job.
“I didn’t really know him as a punter when I got here,” Kidd said of Koehn. “And for him to step out on the field last spring and get put in the punter position, he just blew everybody away with his leg strength.
“It’s been almost better having him because of the way he can hit his punts and push me to be more consistent and to have that distance and accuracy.”
As for Koehn’s leg strength, he was asked on Tuesday what he believes would be his maximum distance for a field-goal attempt. He thinks 65 yards would be his cut-off point.
“I’d say give me a shot,” Koehn said. “I’d love it if I could get a shot at that. But 57 is still a pretty long field goal. But 65 is definitely pushing it. But I’d go out there and give it a shot.”
And judging from how easily last Saturday’s 57-yarder sailed through the uprights, I wouldn’t bet against Koehn.