IOWA CITY, Iowa — If college football were a meat-packing plant, most specialists would wear a tie and blow the lunch-break whistle.
They usually don’t get bloody and they usually stand off to the side. That changed a bit last year for Iowa when summer construction worker/walk-on kicker Marshall Koehn ran two fake field goals because he was faster than most wide receivers. He proved his speed with a 4.61 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine to win $10,000 in an Under Armor competition.
It’s likely new Iowa punter Ron Coluzzi can’t coast alongside Koehn in the 40 or even in a kick-for-distance battle. But where Koehn was one of the boys, Coluzzi has a chance to join the rowdy party.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Coluzzi said. “I’ve been sky diving. I’ve been scuba diving in Honduras. I just love pressure situations. … It definitely helps you grow as a person and an athlete mentally.”
Coluzzi will experience some pressure at Iowa, which is picked to repeat as Big Ten West division champions this year. Coluzzi left Central Michigan after graduating in May and arrived in Iowa City without financial aid in time for June workouts. He impressed his new coaching staff with his work ethic and steadiness. In a two-man battle for the punter slot, Coluzzi won the job over redshirt freshman Colten Rastetter. Coluzzi also picked up a scholarship.
Growing up in Naperville, Ill., located about 180 miles east of Iowa City, Coluzzi wanted to punt for a major program. He ended up at Central Michigan, where he redshirted in 2012. Coluzzi hit 17 of 20 field goals and 33 of 35 extra points as a freshman in 2013. After a few early misses in 2014, Coluzzi transitioned to punter and kickoff specialist. Last year, he had 21 touchbacks and averaged 39.3 yards per punt. That’s when his mind started to wander about his punting future.
“It was toward the end of the season,” Coluzzi said. “Starting to get cold, I started punting better and better. I started becoming more mature as a person, and I knew that I wanted to play at a higher level.
“To be honest, I saw a couple of games last year where Marshall Koehn and Dillon Kidd were playing and the announcers were talking about it and said, ‘They’re seniors, they’re going to be graduating after this year.’ It just kind of clicked in my head, ‘Hey, you could be Russell Wilson transferring from North Carolina State to Wisconsin. You can leave a different legacy and be a mentor to a lot of kids.’ That’s just what I wanted to do.”
Coluzzi traveled to Iowa City in the winter to meet the staff. Coach Kirk Ferentz contacted Central Michigan coach John Bonamego, who worked under Ferentz at Maine in 1990-91. Bonamego vouched for Coluzzi’s character, and Ferentz provided the opportunity. Coluzzi committed to Iowa in February.
“Ron just takes care of business,” Ferentz said. “He’s really thorough, very detailed, really positive personality, and he’s a confident guy. He’s a good player.”
Coluzzi befriended former NFL punter Jason Baker, who competed for Ferentz in 1999-2000, and the two developed a friendship this summer. Coluzzi progressed in his workouts and impressed Ferentz during training camp.
His maturity has become a helpful byproduct for Iowa’s young specialists that include a true freshman as the team’s kicker. Three other players in the depth chart are redshirt freshmen. Coluzzi has become a steadying presence, even with his adrenaline-packed personality.
He’s ready for his next challenge, which starts Saturday in Iowa City against Miami of Ohio (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU).
“The best part of the game is the kickoff,” Coluzzi said. “All eyes are on you. That’s my bread and butter. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid. It’s my favorite thing to do. Punting would probably be next.
“I think I play my best games when it’s a bigger atmosphere. I’ve played Michigan, I’ve played Syracuse, I’ve played Michigan State. I’ve played Purdue. Even though I got knocked out in that game, I was hitting the ball pretty well. I feel like I play my best games in the bigger atmospheres when the game’s on the line.”
Chances are, Coluzzi will have a chance to test his rhetoric this fall.