CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa lost two key special teams players with the graduation of punter Michael Kuntz and first-team all Missouri Valley Football Conference kicker Austin Errthum.
The list of players in spring camp to replace Kuntz and Errthum is not lengthy, but head coach Mark Farley has been pleased with what he has seen.
In fact, one of the candidates is no stranger to kicking for the Panthers.
When Kuntz got hurt last year making a tackle against Iowa, safety Zac Kibby stepped in and punted 15 times for a 39.53 average as an emergency replacement.
If UNI were to play a game today, Kibby would fill that role again.
“He punted in high school,” Farley said of the Algona Garrigan graduate. “He just hadn’t done it for two years, and we threw him out there as a safety valve.”
Kibby’s athletic ability intrigues Farley.
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound Kibby recorded seven tackles last year playing special teams and as a backup safety. This spring, with injuries to Christian Jegen and Korby Sander, he has been running with the No. 1 safety group at times.
“He gives us an athlete at punter which gives us more dimensions in the punting game,” Farley explained. “It is something more to defend. It will be great if Zac is our punter.”
A year ago, many of Kibby’s attempts came rugby style. That won’t be the case if he kicks in 2019.
“We will keep him in the pocket,” Farley said. “We are teaching him to be a punter in the pocket.”
At placekicker, UNI has only one healthy candidate — redshirt freshman Nate Murphy.
UNI also has senior Sam Drysdale, who made 17 of 21 field goals in 2017 and 37 of 39 PATs before losing a competition with Errthum last August. His experience will be huge heading into fall camp, but he has been out after hurting his groin in the third spring practice and has not kicked since.
The Panthers also signed Matthew Cook of Cedar Falls and Isaac Jorgensen of Dike-New Hartford to provide competition in the fall.
“Murphy is doing a great job,” Farley said. “When Drysdale got hurt, Murphy came out there and I didn’t know a lot about him, but he has really matured by having all these extra kicks and living through the heat of the battle.
“He is bombing good kicks. His accuracy has improved and he is in the hunt to become our kicker right now. I’m very pleased with our kicking.”
Murphy also can punt, which Farley says is huge.
“When you get to a travel roster and you have a kicker that can punt ... it is all about how many you can dress,” Farley explained. “Murphy alone being able to do it we gain another roster spot for some other position and that is why Murphy is also valuable.”
TEMPTING: After a rash of injuries left UNI with just three healthy wide receivers, Farley has been tempted to unleash Isaiah Weston.
Weston, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver who was a preseason all-MVFC pick before tearing an ACL before the 2018 season, has dressed for every practice this spring. He runs through some drills, but when the Panthers go 7-on-7 or scrimmage, he is sent to the sidelines.
“He has been fully cleared,” Farley said. “The knee is good. It will be even better in another four months.”