IOWA CITY, Iowa — When punter Ron Coluzzi finalized his transfer to Iowa over the winter he knew there was one phone call to make.
It went to Nick Iovinelli, his punting coach. There was plenty to do before getting to Iowa.
That phone call laid out the plan Coluzzi and Iovinelli would use to ensure the former Central Michigan player became one of Iowa’s most consistent special teams weapons.
“He was ready to attack this,” Iovinelli said.
That’s who Coluzzi is. He’s known as a perfectionist. Everything must be right. Not just with his technique, but with his environment. He’s convinced he punts best that way.
He always wanted to punt on a larger level than the Mid-American Conference. Graduate transfer rules would allow Coluzzi to play for another program in 2016.
The Big Ten was always the hope for a kid growing up in Naperville, a Chicago suburb. So he put together a highlight tape in January. The Hawkeyes reached out in February. It didn’t take long for the dream to become a reality.
Coluzzi wasn’t going to let this chance slip by.
“This was everything,” Coluzzi said. “It deserved everything I had.”
That meant working with Iovinelli. The two met six years before. Iovinelli, a former Bowling Green punter, worked on his kicking at Benedictine College. Coluzzi, a high school junior, worked on a different part of the field. He was a place-kicker trying to figure out this punting thing. Iovinelli watched and eventually came over, offering a few pointers. It was the first of many lessons Iovinelli would give Coluzzi over the years.
“He’s a great guy,” Coluzzi said. “He’s a great punter. He’s helped make me who I am.”
Coluzzi wanted Iovinelli to mold him into something more. It’s why he reached out.
Even though he averaged 39.4 yards per punt last season, Coluzzi wanted to work on his ball contact and get more comfortable with his kicks coming off his foot. Iovinelli wanted to ensure that all of Coluzzi’s momentum went straight and not across his body, which can decrease power.
So Iovinelli told Coluzzi to start at the beginning. He would do one-step kicks for a month to focus on striking the football.
“It’s basically going back to kindergarten things with just my drop,” Coluzzi said.
Slowly, they added more to the drills. Catching a punt before taking one step to kick. Then adding a second step. The two met once or twice a month during the school year in the Chicago suburbs.
Most of the time Coluzzi was on his own in Michigan. He’d kick at Alma College with a friend shagging balls. He’d do it in the rain. He’d do it it snow. He wouldn’t miss a session because he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t and somehow this Iowa thing didn’t work.
“I was ready to prove people wrong that I can do the job and play on a bigger stage,” Coluzzi said. “Yeah, that is how I went about it.”
He heard it again and again. Why kick one more year? You won’t be able to do it in the Big Ten. It came from friends. It came from Central Michigan professors. It came from his father, Ron, who wanted his son to take the job waiting for him with Coyote Logistics.
“He’s a blue-collar man, but I had the dream of proceeding and trying to move farther in my career,” Coluzzi said. “I love my dad. He is a great man. The reason I am the way I am is because of him. My success comes from him, but this was the first time where I kind of went against his way.”
Coluzzi lived, ate and breathed punting. He changed his workout routine to better fit a punter. He improved his diet and listened to motivational tapes.
Coluzzi punted as much as he could with Iovinelli when he returned home. He’d only get one shot at landing the Iowa job.
“Seeing him over the last six months and where he was when we first started working this spring to now is night and day,” Iovinelli said.
Coluzzi quickly won the punting job and thrived on the stage he always wanted to kick on. He was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week against Rutgers.
He averages 42.0 yards per punt and put 9 punts inside the 20-yard line. His biggest impact comes in what he keeps opponents from doing. He neutralizes punt returners by keeping them from returning punts. Twenty-four of his 32 punts were fair caught.
‘Ron is a game changer to me,” Iowa cornerback Desmond King said. “Field position is critical in games … it’s a momentum changer. So he does his part when we need him.”
And he does it well.
“We thought he would be a really good acquisition,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “a good addition to our football team, but he’s done better than we anticipated.”
He’s even turned his dad around on his decision.
“He is my biggest supporter,” Coluzzi said. “He is probably the loudest one in the stands.”
Coluzzi is doing everything he ever wanted as a punter. It came about because of a phone call.
“I am proud of him,” Iovinelli said. “Ron is doing a nice job of enjoying each day and soaking it in and being very thankful for where he is at and the opportunity that he has.”