Donahue's Foot is a Bona Fide Game-Changer

April 11, 2010

Iowa Football Scrimmage Photos (Sunday, April 11) | Video Highlight From Sunday’s Scrimmage

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s Wednesday of game week, meaning University of Iowa All-American candidate Ryan Donahue needs to get serious about his football preparation. So, he turns on the television or boots up a computer and, like most farmers in the Hawkeye state, he watches the weather.

“I’m checking it as soon as the 36-hour forecast pops up on The Weather Channel,” said Donahue, the Hawkeye’s punter. “I’m checking the wind to see how it fluctuates. I know it’s going to be windy, no matter what, in Kinnick. The wind really swirls in Kinnick, and in any other stadium, too. You need to get a grip on what the weather’s going to be like a couple days before.”

For Donahue, an ideal situation for Saturday kickoff is any temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and no gusts whatsoever.

“You want to hit the best tight spiral you can so the wind can’t mess with it as much,” Donahue said. “You have to hit the best solid ball you can every single time because you never know what is going to happen.”

Hawkeye fans know what to expect from Donahue, already a two-time semifinalist for the Ray Guy Punter of the Year Award. A second team all-Big Ten selection as both a sophomore and junior, Donahue is gearing up for his finest season ever in black and gold. The senior from Evergreen Park, Ill. (St. Rita High School) admits that the spring season isn’t time for a heavy work load for the Iowa specialists.

“We’re punting every day and we’re trying to make progress every day, just like the rest of the team,” Donahue said. “The coaches still want us to progress and do well, but you don’t want to kick your leg out right now. You want to get back in the rhythm of things and I think that’s what everyone’s trying to do here.”

Iowa completed its second of three spring scrimmages Sunday, April 11. That practice — No. 12 of 15 — brought a close to the third week of spring ball for the Hawkeyes. The next scrimmage — and final practice before summer camp — will be open to the public on Saturday, April 17, beginning at 1:05 p.m. in Kinnick Stadium.

“We’re punting every day and we’re trying to make progress every day, just like the rest of the team. The coaches still want us to progress and do well, but you don’t want to kick your leg out right now. You want to get back in the rhythm of things and I think that’s what everyone’s trying to do here.”
UI punter Ryan Donahue

Last season Donahue punted 61 times for an average of 40.9 yards with a long of 73. Twelve of his kicks went 50 or more yards with 27 inside the 20, 19 fair catches and just five touchbacks.

“I try to get zero touchbacks,” Donahue said. “I look for at least a 44-yard net and at least a 45-yard average. I want 50 percent inside the 20 with as many fair-catches as possible so it limits the return yards.”

As a redshirt freshman in 2007, Donahue punted 86 times for an average of 41.1 yards and a long of 82 against Michigan State. During the 2008 season he punted 50 times for an average of 41.6 yards. Donahue said he learned plenty in 2006 as a back-up to Andy Fenstermaker.

“It started clicking about halfway through the season of my redshirt year when Andy was still punting,” Donahue said. “He was kind of working with me and he told me the importance of hang time. Coach (Lester) Erb and coach (Darrell) Wilson coached me up on hang time and fixing little technique things and that helped me out a lot.”

Donahue owns three of the longest punts in Iowa history — 82, 76 and 73 yards.

Coming out of high school, Donahue was listed as a USA Today first-team All-American. Still, there wasn’t an abundance of offers from Division I football programs. A couple schools from the Mid-American Conference were interested, but Donahue took his campaign on the road and punted in front of coaches at Notre Dame, Northwestern and Iowa.

“Out of all the places, everyone at Iowa was just so nice and the people at the other schools seemed kind of full of themselves,” Donahue said.

Donahue enjoyed the recruiting process and when he arrived at Iowa, he felt the need to prove that he belonged on a Big Ten Conference roster.

“At first I just tried to boom everything and there was no hang time,” Donahue said. “The harder I tried, the less hang time I got and that really wasn’t working.”

A four-sport athlete in high school, Donahue participated in baseball, basketball, football and volleyball. He was a punter and kicker at St. Rita. Donahue also holds for PATs and field goals for the Hawkeyes.

Which role has the most pressure?

“A punter, absolutely,” Donahue said. “As a punter I have to judge the wind and you have to do all these things. As a holder, you’re sitting there, your snapper’s going to put it right in your hand and all you have to do is put the ball down and spin it occasionally.”

Donahue had the hold on Nov. 8, 2008, when Daniel Murray kicked a 31-yard field goal with a second remaining to defeat Penn State, 24-23.

As a holder, Hawkeye fans are happy to see Donahue trot onto the field. It’s not always good news when the punter enters a game.

“It’s bittersweet,” Donahue said. “If you have a good day and your team loses, you can’t really say it was that good of a day. If you have a bad day and the team wins, it’s like, `OK, well I’m going to be happy.’ On the days I punt well and we win, it’s a lot of fun.”

Donahue is majoring in recreational management and he is also pursuing an entrepreneur certificate.

“I want to start a business,” he said.

There should be plenty of football highlights before Donahue enters the “real world.” Iowa has won 20 games the past two seasons with championships in the Outback and FedEx Orange bowls. The Hawkeyes have yet to win bowl games in three consecutive seasons, a feat they should have an opportunity to accomplish in 2010. After that, there is a good chance Donahue will find himself on an NFL roster.

Still watching the weather, of course.