GRIDIRON: The last leg: Kirby Van Der Kamp’s journey from soccer to ISU football


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

GRIDIRON: The last leg: Kirby Van Der Kamp’s journey to ISU football.

Dylan Montz

On a quiet neighborhood street in West Des Moines, Kirby Van Der Kamp perfected his craft.

A few times a week as a sophomore and junior at West Des Moines Valley High School, Kirby punted the football back and forth with his dad, Ron, outside the Van Der Kamps’ home. He would work on his drop and follow-through while punting up the slightly angled street while his dad would kick the ball back down the hill to him.

Even though the pair might have accidentally hit some mailboxes in all of the time they spent out there, Ron said that those times spent out on the street helped Kirby hone in on an essential aspect of punting the football.

“It’s something that you never know how the wind was going to blow, just like at the stadium, and when the neighbors have cars in the driveway, it causes you to focus a little bit better,” Ron said.

Kirby has taken those punting sessions with his dad and kept that razor-sharp focus, using that to become statistically one of the best punters in ISU history. 

After playing soccer growing up, Kirby found football in eighth grade and has never lost his sense of wanting to learn.

Growing up, Kirby’s first love was soccer. Kirby and the rest of the Van Der Kamp family loved the game.

Kirby said he just seemed to fall into the position as the goalkeeper in youth soccer, but wasn’t disappointed.

“Being a goalkeeper, I think at a certain age, goalies actually are a part of the game,” Kirby said. “I don’t think anyone else wanted to play it so I volunteered and I loved it. So ever since then, I played goalie.”

It wasn’t until about eighth grade that Kirby became interested in joining his junior-high football team. 

When he stepped onto the practice field in eighth grade and had a background as a soccer player, punting and kicking was a natural position for him to play in football.

In his junior-high playing days, Kirby’s coach told him that he was the first player in maybe five or six years that could actually kick the ball down field where it needed to be kicked.

After moving on to high school and joining the junior varsity football team, Kirby made the decision that as much as he enjoyed soccer growing up, he wanted to see where football could take him. One big difference in kicking a soccer ball and a football really stood out to Kirby as being a challenge he would love to take on.

“Soccer is a round ball and football there is a lot more technique and actually a science behind it,” Kirby said. “It’s just crazy to see how much detail and how millimeters can change a punt. It’s crazy just to be able to try to hone your skills. A punter has to be an athlete because that ball is moving and you’re foot is moving.”

Since he only punted once on the varsity team before his senior year (an older player was ahead of him), Kirby would go to camps in West Des Moines and Ankeny, learning to get his steps down for when he would be the starter.

There was one camp Kirby and Ron went to in January of Kirby’s junior year, which took place at Iowa State. The camp was in the Bergstrom facility.

“There was a kid there hitting the ceiling and everybody was going ‘ooh’ and ‘ah,’” Ron said. “I asked Kirby if he could hit the ceiling and he said, “Yeah, but I didn’t think that was the point of what I was practicing right now.” At the end of it, he got tired of hearing everyone else talk about it so he kicked four in a row that hit the ceiling.”

After that camp, Kirby started getting letters from Iowa State about being a Cyclone. He went to an ISU special teams camp that summer, where he was offered a scholarship, despite not playing much on the varsity squad at Valley yet.

Kirby joined the Cyclones in the fall of 2010, but didn’t see action in his first game and thought there was a possibility he could be redshirted his initial season. 

But when it came time to play Iowa in Iowa City in the second game of the season, Ron remembered how Kirby was informed of a decision made by ISU coach Paul Rhoads.

“Coach Rhoads went to [Kirby] at breakfast and said, ‘Do you want to know now or when we get to the stadium?’” Ron said. “Kirby goes, ‘Know what?’ And he goes, ‘You’re starting today.’”

Ever since, Kirby has been a mainstay in the ISU lineup. Throughout his ISU career, he has maintained a workmanlike mentality, always wanting to learn.

As for when the ISU coaches call for him to do something outside of just punting the ball, he doesn’t shy away from that either.

On Nov. 9 against TCU, Kirby was called upon by Rhoads for a fake play. It was fourth-and-long, and it was an opportunity to sway momentum and tie the game at 7-7.

Kirby delivered a 25-yard completion that found Justin Coleman, who was downed at the 15-yard line. The next play, quarterback Sam Richardson scampered into the end zone to tie of the game and give some momentum back to the Cyclones.

Rhoads, who professed that he will not take the chance on a fake play unless he is sure it will be successful, can always count on Kirby to be a guy that will listen to what the coaches are saying and execute.

“It’s just like asking somebody for directions,” Rhoads said. “You’re lost somewhere and you ask somebody for directions. When that person gets done, you either know you’re going to drive right to where you’re supposed to drive or ‘I don’t think I’m going to get there.’ When I give Kirby a responsibility like that, I’m very confident that it’s going to get done. I knew he would make that pass whether it was in the wind or not.”

In addition to his success on fake plays, Kirby has also been successful throughout his career at Iowa State with his kicks. He has a 42.6 career yards-per-punt average and has pinned ISU opponents inside their 20-yard lines 97 times in his career, with 25 coming this season.

A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Kirby was named to the preseason All-Big 12 First Team as a senior and the Ray Guy Award watch list. He was also recently named to the 2014 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the first Cyclone to earn a spot on that roster since 2011.

Kirby’s four years in an ISU jersey have been quite the experience for his family, with all of the accolades and recognition from ISU fans on game day, and how quickly his career at Iowa State has gone.

“It kind of seems surreal,” Ron said. “My wife and I have had tickets on and off for football since before we got married. To see your kid down there playing, it seems normal now, but that first year it just seems really surreal.”

As for what the future holds, Kirby is up for anything. ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper listed Kirby as his top choice as a punter in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Even though Kirby knows a lot of punters have to wait to go to NFL squads as free agents, he’s willing to give it a shot.

“It’s going to be a great experience no matter what happens and just wherever life takes me in the next year will be exciting to see,” Kirby said.

As he heads onto the field one last time Saturday against Kansas under the bright lights for senior night, Kirby’s focus will keep him balanced. Just like it did all those years ago on that quiet neighborhood street in West Des Moines.