Oct 28, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Kyle Kempt (17) looks for the first down in the third quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State beat TCU 14 to 7. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Textbook definition of even-keeled, per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “characterized by stability or consistency.”
How about we make that “stability” and “consistency” when it comes to Iowa State’s previously unheralded, yet now-nationally hyped walk-on quarterback Kyle Kempt?
The fifth-year senior few expected to take meaningful snaps is calm, yet competitive.
He’s poised and prepared.
He’s even-keeled, but ever-evolving — and the front-and-center standard-bearer of this unlikely (to outsiders) cardinal and gold-tinged renaissance that suddenly has captivated the otherwise aloof pantheon of college football commentators.
“Kyle got hit today,” said Cyclones coach Matt Campbell, who earned an extra $500,000 for steering his 25th-ranked team to a sixth win on Saturday over No. 4 TCU. “And he took some shots early on and really hung in there. A couple of those plays that he made were, especially that touchdown pass to Hakeem (Butler), takes a shot and just stayed the course. He’d tell you it wasn’t his best day but I think his poise, who he is, allows him to stay in the moment and I think really allows our team to stay in the moment.”
About that “in the moment” stuff. There’s a Zen quality to that, no?
Well, I broached that Eastern Philospohy-based topic with Kempt — who completed 21 of 35 passes for 202 yards and touchdowns to Butler and Matt Eaton on Saturday — and he chuckled softly while sitting back comfortably in a plastic chair.
Yes, the guy who was featured on ESPN’s College GameDay today, finds his journey from walk-on afterthought to prime-time player at least mildly amusing. Rewarding, too, but less about him and more about “the process.”
“I guess I go from a private guy to a public guy,” said Kempt, who is 4-0 as a surprise starter this month, while leading ISU (6-2, 4-1) to two of its three wins over top-five teams ever. “This is just how I am. My family’s good about — they understand how I am. I’m not, like, a fan of all the media (attention) and stuff, but I just want to bring positive attention to this program and give ourselves something to build off in the future and continue to build off now, obviously. I’m just glad that this is all great coverage for our team.”
Before Kempt, there was turmoil mixed with guarded hope.
After? Supreme confidence that existed before adversity hit, but burst to the forefront in advance of the stunning 38-31 win at Oklahoma.
“We expected to win so it’s no surprise to me or anyone else in our locker room, but obviously when you win a big game like that it’s a little more satisfying,” star receiver Allen Lazard said of Saturday’s victory. “It means a little bit more to you.”
All that matters to Kempt is what happens now — and then next.
He’s been out of high school since 2012. He was ISU’s “Scout Team Player of the Year” in 2016. Before that he redshirted at Oregon State, was a “squad member” the next season and a “squad member” again in 2015 at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College in 2016.
All that comes from his cyclones.com bio, not a textbook.
But when it comes to being “even-keeled,” that’s second nature for Kempt, who’s stoic yet stoked as the Cyclones try to push their Big 12 win streak to a remarkable five games next weekend at West Virginia — with one caveat wedged between now and then.
“We have so much on both sides of the ball we need to improve and this team’s not even close to where it can potentially be,” Kempt said. “It’s just exciting to know, that, ‘Hey, we’re having success, but we can have that much more success.’ There’s no reason to be complacent when we can be that much better.”
I’ll leave you with a quote from the venerated and famed Stoic Seneca:
“Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity,” he wrote more than 2,000 years ago.
That’s wisdom for the ages. Timeless as ever. And supremely applicable to what’s going on now in Ames.
“It’s just great for our fans and the fact that they’ve constantly supported us throughout everything that’s happened to us,” Kempt said of Saturday’s shared Jack Trice Stadium celebration. “To see them happy is a great thing.”
ISU was plus-two in turnover margin today and is plus-10 for the season. The Cyclones are 9-2 under Campbell when winning the turnover battle. … Marcel Spears Jr. snared his second career interception to cement the win. Both picks came in the last two weeks. … Defensive tackle Ray Lima left the game in the fourth quarter with back spasms, but should be good this week. “I think he’ll be just fine,” Campbell said. … Offensive tackle Bryce Meeker left the game earlier and less is known about his issues. “I don’t know,” Campbell said. “We’ll find out a little bit more. I know it was a knee situation. I don’t know if it’s a long injury or not but I’ll probably know by Tuesday and let you know.” … Willie Harvey notched his first career forced fumble. … ISU’s crowd of 56,259 pushed its streak of 50,000-plus to 44 straight games. “It’s mind-boggling,” defensive end J.D. Waggoner said of the fans’ on-field reverie after Saturday’s win. “It’s something that they definitely deserve.”