With Iowa's season now officially over, several players have been taking stock of things and deciding what their next steps will be. While every player who played this fall would still be eligible to play again in fall 2021, thanks to the NCAA's decision to grant an additional year of eligibility to athletes in all fall sports, many football players are opting not to use that additional year and instead move on to new things. One of the most notable players to do so at Iowa: Keith Duncan.
It's no exaggeration to say that Duncan had probably the most prolific and memorable career for an Iowa kicker since Rob Houghtlin. That's not to say he was the best Iowa kicker, full stop -- for my money, as a card-carrying member of the #Kaeding4Heisman campaign in the early '00s, Nate Kaeding's combination of deadly accuracy and boot-it-out-of-the-stadium kicking power is hard to top. But what makes someone a great kicker, and more specifically an especially memorable kicker, is not great stats (though Duncan stacks up pretty well in that department, especially after his wildly prolific 2019 campaign) or great raw ability, but to a large degree a result of happenstance and dumb luck. It comes down to what a kicker does in those big moments.
Kaeding, bless his leg, simply didn't have many of those opportunities while he was at Iowa. He arrived at Iowa on a bad team that didn't have the chance to win many games. One of his best seasons was with the 2002 team, a squad that stormed through opponents and rarely needed kicking heroics to save the day. All the circumstances simply never aligned for him to have one of those kicks that are instantly unforgettable, like Houghtlin's game-winning boot to beat Michigan in Iowa's biggest game of all-time in 1985... or like Duncan's game-winning boot to also beat Michigan, back in 2016.
Of course, It doesn't hurt Duncan that his story practically screams folk hero, too. A true freshman walk-on from North Carolina who makes one of the biggest kicks in Iowa history to cap off an upset over #2 Michigan? Who then loses his job to another kicker, but stays at Iowa anyway and pays his own way -- on out-of-state tuition, no less! Who then regains his job three years after he first rose to notoriety... and proceeds to have arguably the greatest season an Iowa kicker has ever had in the over 130 year history of Hawkeye football? His 27 made field goals in 2019 shattered the previous Iowa record for most field goals in a single season and also broke the old Big Ten record for most field goals made in a single season. Oh, and he earned consensus All-America honors and was named to the Big Ten's All-Decade team for the 2010s, too.
Duncan converted four field goals in four different games -- against Nebraska this year and against Purdue, Illinois, and Iowa State last year. The Iowa State game was the only one decided by fewer than three points... but Iowa doesn't win any of those games without Duncan's leg. He was the scoring punch for Iowa's offense on multiple occasions last season -- and a few times this year as well. That ISU game was another testament to his incredible ability to deliver in the clutch: he nailed four field goals in the most hyped and pressure-packed CyHawk game in memory, and did it while enduring a lengthy weather delay, swirling winds, and a field that was gouged to hell by that aforementioned weather delay.
Duncan's kick against Michigan in 2016 will likely always be his most memorable and most-celebrated kick, but if you wanted to make a case for the Nebraska kick last year, well... I'd understand. The kick (which, at 48 yards in swirling winds, was decidedly not easy), the kisses, trolling Nebraska in front of 80,000 Nebraska fans as Iowa beats the Huskers for the fifth straight year... it is a masterpiece in its own right.
The fact that he has not one, but two incredibly iconic walk-off kicks is absolutely staggering and a testament to his wildly impressive ability to deliver in the clutch.
We're gonna miss you, Keith. You delivered in key moments so many times over the last five years. Beating Michigan in 2016 ensured you would never be forgotten. Staying at Iowa after losing the starting kicker gig was impressive. Putting together the greatest kicking season in Iowa history after regaining that gig, all while trolling several rivals along the way? Legendary.
We wish Keith nothing but the best of luck in what comes next (hopefully a kicking job in the NFL) and offer him sincere and hearty thank yous for everything he did in an Iowa jersey over the last five seasons.
Go Keith Duncan Awesome.