By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Once he was able to benefit from his Name, Image and Likeness, Iowa punter Tory Taylor was determined to help raise money for a great and noble cause.
There are a wide range of causes that he could’ve pursued, but Taylor chose to raise money to help prevent and fight against stillbirth, and did so mostly as a way of saying thanks and showing his respect and admiration for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, and his son, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
Brian Ferentz and his wife, Nikki, suffered the tragic loss of their daughter, Savvy, who was born at just 21 weeks in 2014. She died two days later.
Devastated by the loss of their granddaughter, Kirk Ferentz and his wife, Mary, made it their mission to hopefully help others avoid what they had to go through as grieving grandparents.
In 2017, Kirk and Mary Ferentz donated $1 million to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. They money was used to create the Savvy Ferentz Program in Neonatal Research.
Taylor is now raising money by selling t-shirts that say “Punting is Winning” with all of the proceeds going to the “Count the Kicks Organization.”
Count the Kicks is an evidenced-based stillbirth prevention campaign that provides educational resources to healthcare workers and expectant parents.
Taylor, a native of Melbourne, Australia, was asked at Tuesday’s weekly press conference why he chose this particular cause.
“Just because I know it’s close to obviously coach Ferentz and his son, Brian,” Taylor said. “That was the reason. They’ve had a big impact on my life so far since I’ve gotten here.
“And I know, obviously, a lot of money gets donated to the children’s hospital and things like that. And I thought about that.”
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The t shirt appears to be catching on as Taylor has noticed more fans wearing it at games this season, and wanting him to know about it.
And that brings a smile to his face.
“I try not to get distracted in the games, but a lot of people were screaming out my name during the game and showing me the t shirt,” Taylor said. “And like I’ve said before, I really appreciate everyone going out and buying one, because like I said, it’s going to a great cause.
“So I really appreciate it, and I know the other guys do as well. It’s a great cause. So yeah, everyone get out there and buy one.”
The ability to raise money for charitable causes is one of many options that student-athletes now have through Name, Image and Likeness.
Taylor chose to help a cause that means a great deal to two people that mean a great deal to Taylor because they have helped to change course of his life.
In barely one year, Taylor has gone from never having punted in a football game to now being one of the top collegiate punters in the country. He was named the Big Ten Punter of the Year as a freshman last season, and is averaging 47.9 yards on 27 punts this season.
Kirk Ferentz was asked at his weekly press conference on Tuesday what Taylor’s charitable act means to him.
“First of all, Tory is one of the one of the neatest people to come through the program,” Ferentz said. “He’s just so different because he is — naive is not the right word, but it’s such a fresh approach to everything because he is brand new to everything about college football. So that’s been pretty fun to watch that.
“As you might imagine, I mean, I didn’t find out about it because it was on social media, right? Somebody showed it to me. Somebody I’m married to showed me what he’s doing, so that’s pretty cool.”
Kirk Ferentz told the story about when his wife met with representatives from the Count the Kicks organization for the first time in Des Moines. The meeting apparently went well based on the way in which Kirk described the circumstances on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I remember the first time Mary met with the folks from Count the Kicks, I mean, she met with them,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Hey, I’ll only be gone for an hour. It was at Des Moines. I was at my daughter’s house. She got back like four hours later. Typically that’s how we do things. But I got to watch the Celtics. That’s actually the first pro basketball game I watched in quite a while, and it was good. So we had a good day.
“But they’re great people, and they’ve done really great work. It’s really worth it, should be touted. It’s not just in Iowa. It’s a national initiative and really, really cool. So for Tory to do that, that’s really a nice gesture on his part. It’s a shame he doesn’t get to benefit from the NIL stuff, but that’s the way he’s wired. He’s really an exceptional person.”
Taylor was asked to evaluate his punting at Iowa’s weekly press conference on Tuesday. He mentioned how in last Saturday’s 24-14 victory over Colorado State that a couple of his punts didn’t go the way he had wanted.
“But the way I see it, it’s just another opportunity to get better,” he said.
Taylor had a lot to learn about punting when he joined the Iowa program because he had only played Australian rules football up to the point. He struggled just to kick a spiral at first.
“This season has been a bit of a transition from the drop punt, or the rugby punt that you guys call it here to the traditional spiral punt,” Taylor said. “That’s really challenging in itself.
“But I owe a lot of credit to the guys on the punt unit and things like that. They make my job a lot easier.”
Taylor singled out junior defensive back Terry Roberts, who is a force on special teams.
“He’s just an amazing guy to work with, and an amazing guy to talk to,” Taylor said of Roberts. “He makes my okay punts sometimes look great. So I’m pretty lucky in terms of that as well. But I think it just comes down to a lot of hard work.”
The combination of Taylor’s booming punts and a rock-solid defense is largely why Iowa is 4-0 and ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll heading into Friday’s game at 4-0 Maryland.
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The 24-year old Taylor has become a fan favorite, although, he seems reluctant to acknowledge his growing popularity because he would prefer to spread the praise to his teammates and coaches.
“I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s, obviously, been pretty exciting just to give the specialists some love,” Taylor said. “I don’t know what it’s been like in the past. But it’s just been real nice, not so much the attention, but just mostly like the welcoming feeling. I feel like everyone has kind of created an atmosphere where everyone is accepted regardless of what position you are because I know it’s a bit different at some other places.”
Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods had to travel a long ways to recruit Taylor, but it was well worth the money, time and effort.
Taylor has become a force as a punter, and his friendly personality and his team-first mentality fits perfectly in the Iowa program.
The media also enjoys interviewing Taylor, not only because of his accent, but also because he is friendly, engaging and funny.
Taylor knew very little about football, or about the University of Iowa when he arrived last summer.
He also had to play his freshman season in stadiums that were mostly empty due to the global pandemic.
But now the stadiums are packed with fans, and Taylor is getting to experience what it really feels like to punt in the Big Ten.
His family and friends back home in Australia also pay close attention despite the time difference.
Taylor really looks forward to Friday’s 7 p.m. game at Maryland because it will be 10 a.m. on Saturday morning in Australia when the game starts. Most of Iowa’s games are played on Saturday afternoon, which is early Sunday morning in Australia.
“Everyone is getting up and watching the games,” Taylor said. “I was fortunate that the Iowa State game was actually televised back home in Australia. So, they didn’t have to stream it or anything like that.
“So they could just get up and turn the TV on and watch it. And a lot of my friends and family watched it. So I was really fortunate enough that they could get up and watch the game because they’re the people I play for.”
The Iowa football team has sort of become a second family for Taylor.
Part of picking the right school is finding the right fit, and Taylor is without question the right for Iowa and vice versa.
He has embraced the Hawkeye culture, and the culture has embraced him.
Taylor is now using his popularity and influence to help promote a great cause.
And his reason for doing so speaks volumes about his character.
Iowa got a lot more than just a talented punter when Tory Taylor came to Iowa City from down under.