Punter Van Der Kamp a Real Cyclone Weapon
AMES, Iowa - Iowa State punter Kirby Van Der Kamp can tell you when his gridiron career truly turned the page. The West Des Moines native had come to Ames for the Jamie Kohl Kicking Camp in the Bergstrom Indoor Facility the summer before his junior year of high school.
"I just didn't know any better," Van Der Kamp said. "I watched Will Hagerup (now the punter at Michigan) hitting the ceiling and the coaches were impressed. I was just warming up and I was like, 'I think I can do that,' so I started hitting the ceiling. That's when Kohl (a former Iowa State kicker) came over and said, 'what's your name?'"
Iowa State fans and college football followers know Van Der Kamp's name. The junior has been a key part of the Cyclones' 3-1 start. Van Der Kamp's career average of 43.8 yards is the best in school history. Yes, he can hit the big ones. Van Der Kamp has 40 career punts longer of 50 or more yards. Against Texas Tech Saturday, he averaged 49.3 yards on six punts, with kicks of 50, 51, 50, 46, 48 and 51 yards. But the former West Des Moines Valley prep is turning heads this season for his ball control and placement, which four games into the season, has been remarkable.
Van Der Kamp was the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week after the Cyclones opened the 2012 season with a 38-23 win over Tulsa. In that game, Van Der Kamp dropped punts out on the Golden Hurricane 2-, 9-, 15-, 8-, 20- and 13-yard lines, forcing Tulsa to start deep in its own territory. In Iowa State's 9-6 win at Iowa, the Hawkeyes were forced to start drives from their own 19-, 10-, 16-, 12- and 10-yard lines.
Van Der Kamp earned National Punter of the Week honors after Iowa State beat Western Illinois 37-3 on Sept. 15. He dropped kicks out at the Leatherneck 8-, 1-, 16- and 20-yard lines. Van Der Kamp currently ranks second in the Big 12 with a punting average of 43.7 yards. The Cyclones rank 12th nationally and second in the Big 12 in net punting, thanks to Van Der Kamp and a stout punt coverage team.
"He is truly a weapon," said Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. "Internally, we voted Kirby as the special teams MVP for three straight weeks and that isn't lost on our defensive guys. They know his value. They're the guys out there on the coverage unit. Kirby punted one time from inside our 15 and ended up pinning them on their 9. When the defense knows they have a guy that can do that on a consistent basis, it will only elevate what you can accomplish as a defensive team."
The summer before Van Der Kamp's senior season he attended the Iowa State Special Teams Camp.
"I knew they were looking at me but it didn't register beyond that," Van Der Kamp said.
During the camp, Rhoads separated Van Der Kamp and another punter from the rest of the crowd and the Iowa State head coach had his own way of testing the mettle of the two high schoolers.
"He was trying to see how mentally tough I was and how easily I could be distracted and flustered," Van Der Kamp said. "He would yell and throw his hat while you punted. That stuff doesn't really bother me that much and I was just like, 'whatever.' I'd been told that I wouldn't get any offers until Coach Rhoads saw game film on me. I won the camp competition. Coach Rhoads came up and said, 'how would you like to play for Iowa State?' My parents and I were stunned."
A week later, Van Der Kamp told Rhoads he was going to accept his offer.
There is an art to punting. And to drop punts in deep, repetition and drill is Van Der Kamp's friend.
"I think a lot of it goes back to muscle memory," Van Der Kamp said. "You do this over and over again a hundred times. You let your body do what it does. I would say once it lands a little luck comes into it. I can control my ball a little bit. If I put the nose up I can see how it's going to bounce. Once it lands, that's where your cover team comes in nicely."
Nicely indeed. Iowa State opponents have yet to return a punt for positive yardage. The Cyclones are tied for ninth nationally in punt return defense and 15th in net punting.
Van Der Kamp's athleticism has paid dividends. If need be, he can defend. The Cyclone has made three tackles. The specialists do practice their tackling skills.
"The specialists, all the kickers, punters and long snappers tackle against each other," Van Der Kamp said. "It's just getting the feel for proper form, and then how to take angles and use the sideline in tackling. Once in a while we'll do team tackling drills so the offense will learn to tackle in case of need."
Van Der Kamp was a wide receiver in high school and this experience has aided him greatly when a fake punt is on. Van Der Kamp is 4-for-4 on fake punts in his career. Among those efforts was a 22-yard pass to Jake Williams in his freshman season.
"(The fake) is called on the sideline so we'll go into the game with an idea of what we want to do and if coach feels like it's the right time," Van Der Kamp said. "Coach will call it and he can cancel it or tell us it's on. We may have a couple calls for a game."
Van Der Kamp came to Iowa State as a 180-pound player. Strength training has beefed him up to 205 pounds and it's had a positive impact on his play.
"Just having the strength in your legs, getting your leg to the ball faster makes you better," Van Der Kamp said. "It's almost like a golf swing. I compare it to golf all the time. If you swing really hard you're just gonna slice it, or hook it. But if you build muscle, and you have a swing that feels easier, it will be faster and more powerful."
Van Der Kamp will have the rest of his life to work on his golf game. For now, he and his Iowa State teammates are flying high.