The redshirt junior kicked in the Drake game, and was the holder all season in 2018

When Corey Dunn went down this summer with an Achilles injury, which will likely rob him of the upcoming season, it left Iowa State to turn to a few other names to fill the void. It unknowingly got a glimpse of that new punter late last year.

Joe Rivera was a mainstay on special teams units last year, serving as the holder on field goals and PATs in all 13 games. But it was the game against Drake that the former all-state punter from Grinnell finally got on the field for a couple kicks. Things went well.

“We got ourselves in a really dicey football game our last game of the season and the first punt snap got dropped and it was like, ‘Let’s go with Joe,’” ISU coach Matt Campbell said. “This is a guy we really felt like could give us some confidence and he had earned the confidence and trust of his coaches and teammates. Joe went in and I said this after the game, was the MVP of that football game.”

Rivera averaged 38 yards per punt on two kicks in a narrow win against the Bulldogs with a long of 46. The 6-foot-2, 186-pound redshirt junior is long and rangy, and executes three-step punts as opposed to Dunn’s two steps, but has building on his consistency through preseason camp.

“I have to stay consistent, that’s my biggest thing I’m working on,” Rivera said. “I’m just making sure I’m delivering good balls and making the best out of it.

“I’m just really making good contact and making sure I deliver a good ball every time, exactly where we want it on the field. That’s what I’m really trying to hone in on right now.”

Rivera was a versatile athlete in high school. At Grinnell, he averaged 41.7 yards per punt as a senior, had nine touchbacks as a kickoff man and caught 25 passes for 620 yards and nine touchdowns. His timing and precision have helped him become a trusted figure on special teams.

As the holder last season, he built a familiarity with long snapper Steve Wirtel, who transitioned to doing field goals and PAT snaps as well as the punting deep snaps. Now that both are on the punt team, the foundation that was established last year is apparent through the first couple weeks of camp.

“I think really the only difference is just kind of having a guy who is a lefty compared to Corey who is a righty,” Wirtel said. “Corey and I spent a lot of this offseason working together. When this all took place, Joe and I kind of hit the ground running. We were in here after hours and on the weekends snapping and kicking.

“The biggest thing is to just get comfortable and that’s what we’re doing right now. It’s been really good though to be honest with you.”

ISU also brought San Jose State transfer Brian Papazian in this offseason after Dunn was injured to create depth and competition. Papazian averaged 38.1 yards per punt on 15 attempts as a redshirt freshman last year, and has been going back and forth with Rivera.

“We’re both coming out every day and doing everything we can to put the best feet on the field right now,” Rivera said. “I think it’s going really well.”

The biggest thing Campbell and Co. want to see from both Rivera and Papazian is exactly what they hope every special teams is able to exhibit: consistency.

“That starts with us developing a scheme for whoever our punter may be,” Campbell said. “If it is Joe or Brian or whoever it may be, (it’s about) us doing a great job of making sure that scheme matches their skillset and ability to allow them to be consistent.”