By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Caleb Shudak has been on the Iowa football roster since 2016 but has attempted just one field goal, a missed 52-yarder that bounced off the right upright last season against Northwestern.
Now, after handling kickoff duties for the past two seasons, Shudak is ready to take over for Keith Duncan.
“When you said the word ‘character’ I think of Caleb Shudak,” special teams coach LeVar Woods said. “He’s a guy that was worked very hard, he has bided his time and it’s his time to go, it’s his opportunity now. The conversations he and I had, without getting too personal, I told him I would cry literal tears if he left because that’s how much I feel about Caleb and how much I feel strongly about him as a person and a member of this team.”
Until the 2019 season, Shudak had attempted, and made, just one PAT attempt.
Shudak, a native of Council Bluffs, could have moved on, but decided to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In eight games last season, Shudak 30 touchbacks on 51 kicks.
“I think it was very important for him to come back and finish with his classmates, with his teammates and have this opportunity,” Woods said. “I’m really looking forward to it. He’s done a tremendous job from a leadership standpoint, from a development standpoint. I tell a lot of people that he’s a really, really good kicker and we’ve had two really good kickers here. People just don’t know Caleb as well, but they’re going to get to see him this spring and next fall, so I’m excited for him.”
Young wideouts: Freshman receivers Arland Bruce and Keagan Johnson have been a hot topic during spring football.
Both players become popular with fans as high school players due to their versatility and athleticism.
Now, with Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette trying to make it in the professional ranks, Bruce and Johnson will look to make an impact in their first year on campus.
Receivers coach Kelton Copeland indicated that Bruce and Johnson have been performing well during spring practice, but also wants to remind people that just a few months ago, the two were playing high school football.
(We are) putting them in situations to see if they are ready,” Copeland said. “What can they handle, what can’t they handle. To be honest, there hasn’t been much that they can’t handle up to this point. Do they need to learn the the system better, learn the details? Absolutely. This is not high school football, far from it. Are they finished products? Not even close.”
Another name to look out for is redshirt sophomore Desmond Hutson.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Hutson missed all of last season due to an injury sustained during preseason practice.
The Raytown, Mo., native also missed time during the summer due COVID contact tracing forcing him to quarantine multiple times, which Copeland said severely hurt Hutson’s development.
Hutson saw action in two games in 2019 but did not record any statistics before redshirting.
“He’s a young man that we need to continue to develop,” Copeland said. “He fits the mold physically. If you look at his hands – I’ve been told I have big hands – I feel like his hands are twice as big as mine. He’s got all the tools.”
Taylor the first?: It is possible that sophomore punter Tory Taylor is the first player in program history to be named first-team All-Big Ten in his first season every playing football.
The Melbourne, Australia, native also was named the Big Ten Punter of the Year after averaging 44.1 yards on 40 punts.
18 of Taylor’s punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, nine inside the 10-yard line and just one went for a touchback.
Woods said Wednesday that Taylor’s success is a testament to his work ethic and demeanor.
Before joining the team last fall, Taylor had to quarantine for three weeks in Australia and then for two weeks when he arrived in the United States.
“He and I were laughing just last week about the first time he saw an American football field,” Woods said. “We walked out and he was just looking around at the yard marks, the hashes, trying to figure it all out because it doesn’t quite equate to an Australian football field. Just seeing him work that first time, the wonder in his eyes, the excitement in his eyes. Then he goes and hits the first ball. He hits an end-over-end punt that bounces out of bounds at the two-yard line. Then he hits another one that bounces out at the one-yard line.”
Hurkett: Assistant defensive line coach Jay Niemann pointed out redshirt freshman defensive lineman Ethan Hurkett as one of the young players making strides this spring.
Hurkett, a native of Cedar Rapids, joined the team as a linebacker last season before making the switch to defensive line.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Hurkett is not listed on the spring depth chart, but has the attitude necessary to work his way up, according to Niemann.
“He’s put on some size and strength and he’s done a great job in spring practice so far,” Niemann said. “Super locked-in and focused kind of guy. When you tell him something he’s looking at you dead in the eye and taking every word verbatim. When you tell him to make a correction on a technique, the very next day he’s out there doing everything within his power to make sure he doesn’t have to be told the same thing twice.”