Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the class of 2017 signees. Land of 10 Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse are visiting the Iowa incoming freshman class to show you more than 40-yard dash times and recruiting rankings. Each week, Land of 10 will introduce the Iowa fan base to one of the new Hawkeyes. Up this week is 2-star punter Ryan Gersonde.
MILWAUKEE — Ryan Gersonde’s first experience with football in America came with a mental sticky note.
On his first day as a freshman on the Marquette University High School practice field, Gersonde recalled what his father, Tim, told him repeatedly that summer.
“When they call for punter tryouts, make sure you go out,” Tim Gersonde told his son.
But there was a problem, and a major one at that.
“I was like, ‘What’s a punter,’ first of all,” Ryan said. “I didn’t know what a punter was.”
The sport’s position names were foreign to Gersonde, who lived in Australia from age 2 to 14. His limited exposure to the American game began when he attended practices for gridiron — what Aussies called football — while his father served as a high school club team coach. They also huddled around a radio at 3 a.m. to listen to Green Bay Packers games.
With limited exposure, he quickly had to learn the nuances of football. Now, just weeks from his high school graduation, Gersonde completely understands a punter’s importance. So does Iowa, which signed him to a full scholarship in February.
Learning to punt
On a typical mid-March evening when 40-degree temperatures feel both pleasant and shivering depending on which way the wind blows, Gersonde stretches on the artificial turf outside Marquette. He carries a bag filled with footballs, drops it on the ground and works through a 15-minute warmup.
Gersonde defines each step of his process. A visitor mentions the weather feels like November. Gersonde smiles and nods his head.
The same wind and chill will greet Gersonde at Kinnick Stadium, a venue with which he will become familiar. In a whirlwind January football romance, the punter-needy Iowa Hawkeyes offered Gersonde a scholarship, and he accepted. He attended college football games throughout the South and Midwest as an unofficial visitor, but no major program outside of Iowa was willing to attach a full scholarship offer to its interest.
For that, Gersonde is loyal to Iowa, which is located about four hours southwest of Milwaukee. Perhaps that’s why as the sun goes down, he continues his routine unaffected. Then he booms punt after punt in both directions, attacking the ball for both distance and positioning. The left-footed Gersonde kicks both conventionally and rugby style.
It’s a skill to place a ball at a specific spot. Gersonde learned that as a youth in Australia. Among the many sports he played, Gersonde spent much of his time on Australian rules football, a hybrid of rugby and American football. Ball placement is critical, which helped him advance quickly in the game.
“In Australian rules, you have to kick it to someone moving for them to catch it,” Gersonde said. “Being able to do that on the run and dropping it where you want is very important, and it’s very common in Australia because that’s what you have to do in Australian rules football.”
When Gersonde and his family left Australia for Milwaukee the summer before his freshman year, Marquette University head coach Jeff Mazurczak recommended Gersonde try out for football. About 35 years ago, Mazurczak attended Marquette and played football with two of Gersonde’s uncles. He thought it was a good way for the youngster with an Aussie accent to make friends and learn the game.
So Gersonde went out and remembered his father’s words. The coaching staff called for punter tryouts. Gersonde stepped up. He started booming the ball.
“Everyone was like looking at me like, ‘What the heck?'” Gersonde said. “‘Who is this kid who is bombing the ball?’ The coach came up to me and said, ‘I bet you can’t do that again.’ I was like, ‘All right.’ I did it again and he was like, ‘Tryouts are over. He gets the job.'”
Gersonde earned the punting job. He also played wide receiver and caught a touchdown pass in his first game. By his sophomore year, Gersonde became strictly a punter. Now he stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 185 pounds.
“We saw that gift that he has and we wanted to develop him,” Mazurczak said. “We let him focus just on punting. For our purposes and for his future, we decided to put most of the time we spend with him on kicking.”
Kick the footie
Gersonde and his parents moved from Milwaukee to Sydney just shy of his second birthday and a month ahead of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. His father, Tim, works as a program manager for Milwaukee software company FIS. What was supposed to be an 11-month relocation turned into a 12-year adventure.
“It took us about 30 seconds to decide, yeah, of course we’d like to go there and experience that,” said Stacey Gersonde, Ryan’s mother. “We’d gone there on our honeymoon as well, and we really liked it in general and knew that there was a small office in Sydney. We were excited to go.”
Like many American children, Gersonde’s free time in Australia consisted of playing sports. That meant street rugby in both Sydney and the Gold Coast. There was basketball and baseball and soccer. There also was cricket and Aussie rules football. He remains a fan of the Brisbane Lions of the Australian Football League after living on the warm Gold Coast.
For as long as Gersonde can recall, he always played sports outdoors. Unlike his classmates and friends in southeast Wisconsin, his way of playing catch was much different.
“In Australia we don’t go, ‘Hey, dad, can we go out and throw the ball?'” said Gersonde, an only child. “We say, ‘Hey, can we go out and kick the ball? Kick the footie.'”
He played soccer until he was moved to goalie because he could drill the ball all over the field. He quit because he wanted to score goals. Basketball remains one of his favorite sports. He enjoyed baseball, even when some rowdy visitors took over the field one day.
“All the sudden, this kangaroo, 6 1/2 feet tall, comes bouncing in the middle and bouncing through,” Stacey Gersonde said. “I’m like, ‘A kangaroo!’ and (other parents) look at me like, ‘What? What’s the big deal?’ I was like, ‘Did you guys see the kangaroo?’ It was always such a rush.”
The family got used to kangaroo viewings in Australia. It was so normal, in fact, that Ryan nearly was kicked by a kangaroo when he was messing around with one in a zoo.
“We had kangaroos in our backyard,” Ryan Gersonde said. “They’re like deer.”
His Marquette classmates all wanted to hear those stories after he started fitting in.
“They all thought I was the Outback Steakhouse guy,” Gersonde said. “I thought that was funny. I’ve been asked some weird questions. ‘Did I ride a kangaroo to school?’ They were interested in kangaroos, koalas and dingos.
“I was in study hall and the teacher, they do roll call. You’re supposed to say ‘here’ and I’d say, “hee-uh.” Because that’s how you say it with an Australian accent. He thought I was messing around with him, making fun of him. He’s like, ‘Say it again.’ I’m like, “hee-uh.” He brought me over. You like need to stop messing around. I’m like, ‘Sorry, I’m from Australia.’ I’m saying, ‘hee-uh.’ He’s like, ‘I love Australia.'”
Developing his skills
Punting elevated from a hobby to a skill after Gersonde’s freshman year. He made varsity his sophomore year. Before his junior year, Gersonde attended a Kohl’s kicking showcase, the country’s premier specialist camp. He finished in the top 10 of all punters, which gave him confidence.
Jamie Kohl, a former Iowa State kicker and a Wisconsin native, touted Gersonde’s skills with a breakdown on his website. Kohl rated Gersonde as the ninth-best punter for the 2017 class.
“He has all the tools to be one of the very best punters in high school,” Kohl wrote. “Gersonde flashes a powerful leg hitting multiple punts over 50 yards including a massive 68 yard punt in July of 2015. He graded out at the 5 star level since July of 2015. He is a lefty punter who has a D1 frame and can hit a D1 punt. Gersonde is a punter worth looking at because of his upside and potential.”
Gersonde’s Australian background enhanced his punting image among friends and competitors.
“I never really like realized (I could earn a scholarship) until maybe junior year,” Gersonde said. “I honestly kind of did it because I was good at it. Then I started to see one of those guys from Australia (and people told him), ‘You’re just like (former LSU and current NFL punter) Brad Wing.’ So then I started figuring out that, ‘Wow, there actually is a lot of Australians punting.’ I used that to my advantage. A lot of coaches see the success that comes out of that. In Australia, we just kick the ball. We don’t go out to throw it. We’re kind of meant to kick the ball.”
High-major programs from Clemson and Alabama to Michigan and Wisconsin noticed him. He built a friendship with former Michigan punter Blake O’Neill, an Aussie who infamously dropped a punt snap against Michigan State leading to the Spartans’ game-winning touchdown on the final play in their 2015 game. Gersonde and O’Neill commiserated over the play, because in Australia everyone kicks and everyone picks up the ball.
Gersonde kept booting punts at Marquette. He averaged 40 yards a punt with eight downed inside the 20. He twice earned all-conference honors and was all-state and All-American after his senior season. Perhaps as a testament to his intangibles, Gersonde was named a team captain before his final season.
“He’s a left-footer, which makes him somewhat unique,” Mazurczak said. “But he’s very powerful moving to his left and kicking on the run. He’s very good directionally, too. He really drives the ball. He’s got a very powerful leg. Coaches like to say he’s got a live leg. The ceiling is high on him.
“He’s so competitive. That’s what gets him through. That’s what normalizes him. He’s every bit as competitive as if he was a wide receiver or linebacker.”
Gersonde’s final options came down to Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. He had a scholarship offer in hand at Iowa and the opportunity to earn one later at the other two schools. After plenty of family conversations, Gersonde picked the Hawkeyes.
“I had the opportunity to recruit Ryan,” said Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace, who recruited Wisconsin. “To me, the jury’s out on how he’ll handle the college side of things. But high school-wise, he comes from a very good high school, a high school that’s produced some players that have gone on to Madison and done well.”
As the only scholarship punter on Iowa’s roster, Gersonde has a chance to win the job outright this summer.
“You need to prove yourself and show the coaches that you’re worthy of being the starting punter,” said Gersonde, recalling what Iowa’s coaching staff told him. “They definitely would like me to (win the job) because of the scholarship, but they haven’t promised me a starting spot. A lot of other schools could easily say, ‘Yeah, you’re going to start.’ That’s another thing we appreciate from them is that honesty.”
Until he arrives on campus in June, Gersonde hopes to gain weight and increase flexibility. As with all specialists, consistency is his ultimate goal. To better prepare him for Iowa’s schemes, the school sent him a DVD of last year’s punts.
“A lot of people would be like, ‘Two hours of punting? That’s horrible,'” Gersonde said. “But actually it’s interesting to watch because that’s going to be me.
“It’s like be an expert at your own game. You know what I’m really good at and what I need to work on. Overall, be more consistent with what I’m good at. That’s the word I’ve heard the most as a punter: consistency, consistency, consistency. That’s my main goal these last three months and, obviously, the next four years.”
Four years ago, Gersonde was a punting novice. Now, he visualizes the craft at a level few understand.
For the complete Iowa NextGen series, click this link.