Iowa State football’s placekicking competition no longer flying under radar

ISU place kicker Chris Francis kicks the ball downfield during the game against Kansas State Oct. 29. The Cyclones would go on to fall to the Wildcats 31-26, making it their first homecoming loss since 2013. 

Noah Rohlfing

Kickers don’t generally get much attention during media scrums. It’s a position that tends to fly below the surface whether it’s the preseason or the National Championship game.

That’s not happening during fall camp this season for the Cyclones. 

There is a lot of competition happening for positions on the offensive and defensive end of the field, competitions that may go down to the wire.

But one of the biggest battles still happening for Iowa State is at the placekicker position.

After Matt Campbell said multiple times that the competition was between redshirt senior Chris Francis and true freshman Brayden Narveson, on Wednesday, special teams coach Joe Houston added a third name to the race: redshirt sophomore kicker Connor Assalley. 

Houston also added that he hadn’t seen much in the way of seperation between the three. 

“All three are playing at a really high level,” Houston said. “I’m really proud of them for competing.”

None of the three contenders for the starting spot have ever made or attempted a field goal in a collegiate game. The kicker with the most experience in real game action is Francis, who was the kickoff specialist in 2017 and kicked one extra point in his redshirt freshman season during a game against Kansas (he made it).

Since then, Francis had mainly focused on kickoffs, becoming one of the best in the Big 12 at the specialty position. 

However, the past two seasons, Francis said he has had to re-learn field goal kicking after competing with Garrett Owens for the place-kicker job in 2017. Despite losing that time, Francis said he learned a lot about where he needed to improve and focus on both jobs. 

“I’ve just been kind of growing since then,” Francis said.

Francis also said that the competition has brought the kicking room closer together.

The place-kicking and kickoff specialist jobs may seem very different in technique and run-up, but Francis clarified that, “There are a lot of similarities,” attributing his success on kickoffs to his athletic build and a “very fast leg.”

“I’m kind of a more unorthodox style of kicking, I’ve just got a lot of power,” Francis said. “So it’s kinda more about getting that technique right to where I can place those balls where I want them.”

Houston said Tuesday that there was no problem on his end with splitting up kicking duties into place-kicking and kickoff specialties, as has been the case the past two seasons with the Cyclones. 

Houston added that the team was not afraid got put a true freshman out at kicker if Narveson is, in fact, the person for the job. 

The position battle will come down to numbers, Houston said, and the competition will not go past the end of camp. 

“It’s a comprehensive deal,” Houston said. “The numbers will not lie, and competition breeds success.”

There will be no open competition heading into the first game of the season, which makes the next week of camp even more important for the Cyclones. 

No matter who wins, the kicker positions have hardly been more prevalent in the minds of Iowa State players and coaches.