In most cases, long before a college scholarship is proffered, you can bet that coaches have watched a fair amount of film on the player.
It only makes sense. The coaches don’t want to waste a scholarship without doing their due diligence.
Every once in a great while, however, a player comes along who is so naturally gifted he necessitates an immediate offer. To put it another way, who’s going to do a background check on a first date with a supermodel?
Iowa State punter Kirby Van Der Kamp is just such a player.
Van Der Kamp had never played in a varsity high school football game when ISU coach Paul Rhoads tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I’d like to talk to you about coming to Iowa State.” Van Der Kamp attended a Cyclones camp the summer before his senior year of high school, and wowed Iowa State’s coaches with both the power and precision of his punts.
“It was kind of funny how it worked out, a little weird for sure,” Van Der Kamp said. “But I’m definitely glad that it did.”
That turned out to be Van Der Kamp’s only college offer, but it was really the only one he could have ever wanted. He grew up in West Des Moines, Iowa, and had several family ties to Iowa State. Some of his earliest football memories involve attending Cyclones games at Jack Trice Stadium and wistfully daydreaming about wearing the cardinal and gold.
“The kids always used to play football on the berm outside the stadium, and I was one of those kids,” Van Der Kamp said. “I can remember thinking, ‘I’d like to play here someday.’ ”
Van Der Kamp tried his hand at a myriad of athletic pursuits as a boy, but he always displayed a knack for kicking a ball into the stratosphere. He was an all-state goalkeeper in soccer at Valley High School in West Des Moines, and it was on the soccer pitch that he first developed his deep, booming punts.
Despite his inherent skill, Van Der Kamp isn’t one to relax and coast on his ability alone. Rhoads said the punter logs countless hours in the film room, breaking down the nuances of his form and the situation.
“He studies his craft,” Rhoads said. “He understands the weather, he understands the wind, he understand the yard-line, he understands the different types of punts that allow him to do what he needs to do.”
Rhoads always believed Van Der Kamp could handle pressure. That’s why the coach didn’t hesitate to install him as the starter in the second game of the true freshman’s first college season in 2010.
Of course, the game was on the road — against Iowa. In the Hawkeye State, the stage doesn’t get any grander.
“Growing up in Iowa, I knew how big it was. So it was a little nerve-wracking,” Van Der Kamp said. “Fortunately, I was able to go out and play pretty well, and I think that helped me a lot going forward.”
Van Der Kamp justified his coaches’ faith in him by averaging a whopping 45.2 yards per punt that freshman season, the second-best mark in school history. As adept as he is at thumping the ball halfway down the football field, Van Der Kamp is equally proficient at pinning teams inside the red zone. For his career, he has dropped a punt inside the 20-yard line a total of 83 times, including 11 times this year.
Though Van Der Kamp clearly adheres to a hefty amount of mental preparation leading up to game day, it’s a little different once he steps on the field.
At that point, he wants to clear his mind.
“You don’t want to think too much when you’re out there,” Van Der Kamp said. “You might be able to focus on one or two little things, but if you start overthinking it, you can get overwhelmed. I just try to rely on muscle memory on the field.”
Racking up honors
A preseason All-American by several publications, Van Der Kamp could punt his way to the Ray Guy Award if he keeps up his current 44.7-yard pace. He’s also a nominee for the AFCA’s Good Works Team, recognizing a player’s community service, and is the rare punter who has been voted as a team captain by his teammates.
When this season is over, Van Der Kamp figures to get a shot in the NFL. But the kinesiology major has a backup plan in case pro football doesn’t work out: He’d like to become a strength coach, especially after seeing how 25 pounds of added muscle has aided his own development.
But before taking that next step, Van Der Kamp plans to enjoy his final days of living his childhood dream of playing for the Cyclones. The guy who offered him that scholarship back in the summer of 2009 said Iowa State will definitely miss him.
“Kirby is a great weapon. We score more points when we have shorter fields on offense, we allow less points when we have longer fields on defense,” Rhoads said. “Simply stated, I think he’s the best in college football.”