GRIDIRON: Kicking it with Bret Culbertson


Hayley Hochstetler/Iowa State Daily

Brett Culbertson was a walk-on as a field goal kicker back in 2004 and became the starter midway through the season. During the Iowa game in 2007, Culbertson tied a school record with 5 field goals, the final being a 28-yarder with 1 second left to force a Cyclone upset against Iowa 15-13 for then-coach Gene Chizik’s first win.

Dean Berhow-Goll

It wasn’t that he forgot where he was supposed to be, or the immense gravity of the situation he was currently in — he was just taking a moment to focus.

Perusing the packed Jack Trice Stadium, he could actually feel the energy. 

This was a moment he’d dreamed of when he walked on to the ISU football team four years earlier — it was a chance to win his team a game with one swing of his leg.

“You better get going,” Iowa State’s then-head coach Gene Chizik called over to him.

Coming back to the moment, it was the 2007 Cy-Hawk game, Iowa State trailing Iowa 13-12 with only five ticks left on the clock. 

Bret Culbertson realized he was somehow the only member of his kicking unit not on the field yet; they were waiting for him to come cement his place in Iowa State’s history books.

Then, right as he was leaving the sideline, Mike Brandtner — the team’s starting punter — grabbed Culbertson and said something which he will never forget.

“Bret,” he said, “You’re about to go beat the Hawkeyes.”

Then he trotted out to the 18-yard line and did just that.



But Culbertson doesn’t think of himself as a hero.

He sees himself as just a part of the team, not the type of guy who assumes the hero kind of role. Sitting in the stands at Jack Trice Stadium six years after the game, he doesn’t look it either: six-foot-six tall, with his long limbs outstretched over the empty seats.

He doesn’t don the mop-top hair he had in college, either, which earned him the nickname “Shaggy,” based on the fictional cartoon character Shaggy on “Scooby-Doo.”

When describing the game six years later, he said it was the field-goal unit that made five field goals that day to beat Iowa, not just him.

“It’s not just that kick,” Culbertson said, recalling his field-goal unit like the game was only a few days ago. “Our field-goal unit went five-for-six. That’s not just me; that’s Matt Purvis on the snap, perfect every time. That’s Josh Griebahn, perfect hold every time; our guys on the line, perfect every time.

“They all did their job, it was just a matter of me doing mine. That sometimes gets lost in translation.”

It’s hard to believe that only six years and six Cy-Hawk games ago, Jack Trice Stadium wasn’t the one fans know today: with consistently more than 55,000 in attendance — 55, 274 was the average attendance in 2012 — as opposed to the 2007 stadium with an average attendance just over 49,000.

Culbertson believes a few things have played into the growth of Iowa State’s game attendance, along with the team’s overall improvement since Chizik’s last year in 2008, when the team was 2-10.

Sitting in the stands on the east side, Culbertson points over to Iowa State’s brand-new, $26.2 million, 60,000-square-foot addition to the Bergstrom Indoor Facility.

“That’s a game-changer,” Culbertson said. “That facility right there, that’s going to change some decisions.”

But it’s not just the facilities; it also has something to do with the man whose office resides inside the shiny new building — Paul Rhoads.

He’s instilled confidence in every single one of his players and has the support of the whole fan base, along with the support of Iowa State — evidenced by the 10-year, $20 million extension he signed last spring.

The Paul Rhoads era has transformed Jack Trice into an anthill on game days, with people overflowing the hillside seating sections just trying to get a glimpse of what surprise that game might hold.

Jamie Pollard, who just began his ninth year as Iowa State’s athletic director, is most directly responsible for the massive facility upgrades Iowa State’s athletic program has seen throughout the last eight years.

But it’s not just the facilities. Pollard has inked stable and well-supported coaches like Fred Hoiberg with men’s basketball, Bill Fennelly with women’s hoops and Christy Johnson-Lynch with volleyball.

He knows Rhoads is one of the main reasons the program has not only seen growth when it comes to wins, but also in the fan base.

“Coach Rhoads has created a culture that our fan base can identify with,” said Pollard. “They see themselves in him: hard-working and honest passion.”

Culbertson was at the historical upset against then-No. 2 Oklahoma State on Nov. 18, 2011. Culbertson was shooting video for the athletic department. Once he knew he had enough footage, he found his friends in the upper deck to watch the rest of the game.

After ISU running back Jeff Woody crossed the goal line and the fans invaded the field, Culbertson was looking down into a sea of cardinal and gold — he could sense what leaps and bounds the program had made since his senior year.

“Just how far it’s come,” Culbertson said. “The trust that Rhoads has gained — you don’t just see it in the players. You see it in the state. You see it in the fans.”



It was exactly 10 years ago that Culbertson was personally handed a letter from former Jamie Kohl, Iowa State’s all-time leader in extra points.

It was an invitation for him to attend Kohl’s kicking camp, a budding training camp that was for snapping, punting and kicking specialists that was still in its early stages of development.

Exactly one decade later, Culbertson is a full-time employee and deals with the video editing at Kohl’s camp, which is regarded as the premier specialist camp in the nation.

“It’s unbelievable that exactly 10 years ago he handed me a letter and this year I actually got to travel around the country and invite guys to the camp myself,” Culbertson said.

Now 14 years into its existence, Kohl’s camp handles the top-100 rankings for, the team watching countless hours of film in order to properly rank each kicker and punter. The camp has even been choosing the kicker and punter participants for the Under Armour All-America Game.

“In that time we developed something we felt very passionate about,” Kohl said. “Our roots were very humble in the beginning and it continued to grow and people know we’ve done some really good things. Pro Bowlers, Super Bowl winners, guys who are doing at the highest level were guys that we took from high school to college to the NFL.”

In the last year, these camps have run BCS-level camps throughout the nation in top programs like Stanford, Arkansas, North Carolina State and even Florida.

It’s an everyday occurrence for Kohl’s cell phone to be lit up with coaches checking in on him, or more likely, asking him about a particular recruit and what his scouting report grade on the player is.

“There will be some days where I’ll have 10 to 15 coaches leaving me messages, texting and calling,” Kohl said.

Last year, 83 percent of Division I recruits went through at least one of Kohl’s kicking camps, according to Kohl. He said one major reason the number is so high is because in some programs, specialists aren’t able to showcase themselves to college programs.

“Because of our relationships we’ve built with college coaches and NFL coaches, they respect our opinion,” Kohl said. “The kids know that, and they come and have an opportunity to separate themselves because a lot of times [they] can’t do that in high school.”

Culbertson looks back at the state of Iowa State’s program when he was enrolled and the progress it has made in the past six years. And he thinks about the progress he’s made himself.

From a walk-on kicker just trying to get a chance in practice, to single-handedly beating the Hawkeyes, to being a full-time coach at the most prestigious and well-respected high-school kicking camp in the country — and he couldn’t be happier.

“I love impacting kids. I love watching them starting in high school and coaching them,” Culbertson said. “Watching them get scholarships and them calling me so happy saying, ‘Hey I just got a scholarship offer,’ — I love it.”