Iowa needed running backs, desperately. Iowa can use some help on the defensive line, no question.
Iowa also needed a punter. The search took Iowa assistant Lester Erb to Bridgeport, W.Va., a northern West Virginia town about 45 minutes south of Morgantown.
Connor Kornbrath, a 6-foot-7, 210-pounder, is at least the second Iowa recruit from West Virginia (Bob Jeter was from Weirton, W. Va.) and he might also be Iowa’s next punter.
“It’s an honor because people just kind of look at West Virginia and don’t think of it as much of a recruiting area,” Kornbrath said. “I’m glad I have a chance to represent my state and have the opportunity to come and play at Iowa.”
Bridgeport was an excellent team, finishing with a 12-1 record in the state playoffs, so Kornbrath’s punting wasn’t taxed. He averaged 39.5 yards on 22 punts with six downed inside the 20. He kicked off 73 times with 35 touchbacks. He rolled up 81 points with 54 PATs and nine field goals.
Kornbrath’s had field goals from 49, 48, 48 and 43 yards.
He’s not coming to Iowa City for field goals.
Eric Guthrie, who averaged 41.2 yards on 53 punts, graduated. Jonny Mullings will be a sophomore. He didn’t get a chance to punt last season. He also wasn’t invited to fall camp last August. He also wasn’t the No. 2 punter, with the job instead going to backup quarterback John Wienke, who'll be a full-go punter next fall.
Iowa needs a punter. It’s either going to be untested Mullings, Wienke or true freshman Kornbrath.
“I have the opportunity to start, but I’m going to have to prove myself and secure the spot, if I can,” Kornbrath said. “I know they have Jonny Mullings right now. If I can earn the spot, that’d be great.”
As far as kicking goes, that’s a maybe. Junior Mike Meyer had just four touchbacks last season, fewest in the Big Ten, and three kicks that went out of bounds, tied for second in the conference.
Historically, Iowa co-special teams coach Lester Erb has divided duties, with the field goal kicker handling kickoff duties and a punter.
“What they’re telling me now is I’m going to looking at mostly punts and maybe kickoffs, but to keep my field goal skill up there,” Kornbrath said. “But right now, I’m not looking at field goals.”
This summer, Kornbrath visited Iowa, Houston and Pittsburgh. He picked Iowa and stayed with his commitment, even when West Virginia offered a scholarship.
“It would be nice being close to home, but I just fell in love with Iowa,” Kornbrath said. “Everyone thinks being from West Virginia that I’d be a big Mountaineers fan, but I just never have and I fell in love with Iowa.”
Josh Helmholdt, Rivals Midwest recruiting analyst, doesn’t do a lot of scouting on kickers or punters. He relies on kicking/punting specialist Brandon Kornblue for scouting advice: “Kornbrath was the first punter he brought up to me. He was very high on Kornbrath. I’ve heard outstanding things about his potential.”
From ESPN.com: Connor has a D1 frame as a punter. He has a short punting approach will should help with his snap to foot times. He has a fairly consistent drop, but his hands need work in catching the ball. His levers are long and leg speed is solid. He has a 4.7-4.8 "A" ball currently and is solid on kickoffs. He hit one very impressive 4.1 hang-time on a kick off at the Kohls Eastern Showcase Camp. His field goal consistency needs work to catch up to his punting and kickoffs. His long 6'6 frame is built to kickoff and punt in college.
What Iowa coaches said
Head coach Kirk Ferentz: John Wienke and Jonny Mullings competed for that position. Both guys made improvement during the fall. So, we'll go through 15 days, and somebody's going to come out No. 1. And I think Conner's going to have a chance to come in and compete. So, we're all for it. It's whatever's best. That's what it comes down to, but he'll have an opportunity to compete in camp.
Recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson: We're looking for somebody. Whether they can kick it into the end zone or boot it as a punter. We're not recruiting somebody to redshirt at that position.
What I think
Let's focus on what Ferentz said, that Wienke and Mullings will have 15 days in spring practice to win the job. That is significant. There will be a seated No. 1 and No. 2 when Kornbrath shows up in August. He will have to blow away the competition to win the job. I would focus on kickoffs. Iowa is desperate for improvement there. Four touchbacks last season didn't help kick coverage. Can that be Marshall Koehn, the walk-on from Solon, or Kornbrath? I think their minds are open.