IOWA CITY, Iowa — Punter Ron Coluzzi had just embarrassed himself in front of millions of people on national television. He tripped and somersaulted onto the ground, his feet tackling him with plenty of open field while running for a first down.
As he sat down on the bench, he noticed the ESPN camera fixed on him. He knew what would happen next. Social media would blow up. He would become a meme, a national joke.
He realized there were only two options.
“I can be mad or I can laugh it off, go out there and play the game of my life,” the Iowa punter said. “That is what I decided to do and that is what happened.”
Coluzzi quickly moved past his first-quarter humiliation and regrouped. It allowed him to play one of his best games in the biggest contest of his career, a 14-13 upset of No. 3 Michigan last Saturday.
The only reason he could do it was because he had been down this path before.
“That is why I think everything happens for a reason,” Coluzzi said. “I don’t think I would have had the game that I did unless I went through the stuff at Purdue.”
The most athletic moment of this Iowa punter's life pic.twitter.com/cS8csEBLFI
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) November 13, 2016
The first time Coluzzi took the Internet by storm came in 2014 when he played at Central Michigan. Purdue punt returner Frankie Williams weaved his way down the field. Coluzzi, the last line of defense, stepped up to make the tackle. It went worse than anyone expected. Williams popped Coluzzi, knocking him out before he even hit the ground.
Coluzzi suffered a concussion. He didn’t really get his bearings until getting on the bus after the game. Eventually, he noticed his teammates looking at the same thing on their phones.
Bleacher Report posted a story on the hit. Coluzzi felt like Williams knocked hit out all over again.
“Then I knew this is going to be everywhere and I was mad,” said Coluzzi, a graduate transfer with the Hawkeyes.
You don’t often think about the people in the Internet videos you watch. Coluzzi never did, not before he became one. He knew everyone would laugh at him. Some would replay it over and over.
A mixture of embarrassment, anger, sadness and frustration washed over him. Being a perfectionist didn’t help matters. A mistake is bad enough for him. This only amplified his unease.
“It caught me by surprise,” Coluzzi said.
He stayed upset for a long time. Eventually, enough time passed and the advice from his dad won out. Don’t be embarrassed. No one is perfect. Just try to become a better punter.
“It took months, months to get over that,” Coluzzi said. “Out there (against Michigan), it took a minute.”
— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 13, 2016
Now Coluzzi can joke about what happened while at Central Michigan. He used the Purdue play as an ice-breaker with potential customers during an internship with Coyote Logistics this past summer.
“Everyone would laugh, and it would help put everyone at ease,” Coluzzi said.
But being able to do it two years later is different from doing it two minutes later. In the moment emotions are still high. The game is still in the balance. Calm, rational thought isn’t always possible.
“You just got to have a short-term memory loss, and I know it’s hard,” Coluzzi said. “It’s easier said than done, but you really need to focus on the future and not the past.”
The present wasn’t much better for Coluzzi after his somersault. Michigan defenders ran into him on his next two punts. Each resulted in a roughing the punter penalty and an additional chance for social media to have fun at his expense.
“I wasn’t sure he was going to make the second quarter,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Ferentz’s concern for Coluzzi was physical, not mental. It didn’t take the Hawkyes long to catch on to Coluzzi’s demeanor.
“He doesn’t seem to ever get rattled when things go well or when they are going bad,” quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “He has a bad kick and it’s the same as when he has a good one.”
The good kicks would come. His punt to the Michigan 2-yard line set up the safety by defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. He made Michigan star Jabrill Peppers a non-factor, limiting him to only one punt return. Coluzzi put three punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 47.0 yards on six punts.
“I expect that out of myself,” Coluzzi said.
Will Iowa send a punter to the 2020 Olympics? Stay tuned. pic.twitter.com/UbvF2vrd6y
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) November 13, 2016
Coluzzi is soaking in everything from the Michigan upset. He went out of his way to find posts about his somersault. He pranked Iowa fans on his way home after the game. Coluzzi laughs with everyone else when his somersault gets replayed in the film room. He discovered a mashup of Iowa announcer Gary Dolphin calling the game with music and listens to in his car.
“After my Purdue hit,” Coluzzi said, “getting knocked out on national television, this was just icing on the cake. You have to learn to laugh at yourself. Just move forward with it. It’s an unathletic play on my part.”
There is a Twitter post in which Coluzzi gets hit by a Michigan defender in slow motion. It’s his favorite tweet from the game.
— Dr Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) November 13, 2016
“Whoever made that, my hat is off to him or her, because that is awesome,” Coluzzi said.
Coluzzi is enjoying the moment, even if it’s from something he’d rather not do. The fact it came in the biggest win of his career helps.
But he wouldn’t have been in a position to hug kicker Keith Duncan after the game unless he moved past his somersault before America could even react to it.