Iowa State Cyclones’ kicker Chase Contreraz (19) kicks the ball for a field goal against Iowa during the first quarter of the Cy-Hawk football game at the Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa blocked the field goal. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Chase Contreraz sat in the Dallas airport and took a deep breath.
The former Missouri Valley Big Red and former Nebraska Cornhusker placekicker had just performed well at a Dallas-based Kohl’s Kicking Camp event in January so when his phone buzzed, it came as no surprise.
Derek Hoodjer, Iowa State’s director of player personnel, wanted to chat.
“(I was) like, ‘It’s gonna be loud,” Conteraz recalled, “but yeah.”
A few months later, Contreraz emerged from limbo — a.k.a. the transfer portal — committed to the Cyclones (2-2, 1-0). He earned the starting field goal kicker job in camp and enters Saturday’s 6 p.m. Big 12 matchup with No. 14 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) in Norman still finding his way as his long and winding college career nears its conclusion.
“(After) the unfortunate events that happened at Nebraska, I’m very grateful for having another opportunity to come here to Iowa State,” the sixth-year senior said before pausing briefly. “One last year of doing what I love.”
He’s not kidding. Contreraz — the reigning Big 12 special teams player of the week after drilling two long field goals in last week’s win over Oklahoma State — has been enthralled by kicking ever since his father fashioned a makeshift goalpost from PVC pipes when he was five years old. He dreamed of kicking for the Cornhuskers, but reality failed to rise to those wistful expectations. Contreraz briefly served as the starter at Nebraska late in 2021, but he didn’t see the field last season.
Hence his decision to enter the portal. And hence his fateful encounter with Hoodjer that allowed one last dream to materialize in Ames instead of Lincoln.
“The job’s not finished,” said Contreraz, whose two narrowly missed field goals loomed large in ISU’s 10-7 loss at Ohio two weeks ago. “There’s a lot more to do. A lot more season left. So just like I said, a next kick mentality.”
The placekicker often glints under the spotlight for the Cyclones because of their penchant for playing close games. Missed field goals cost ISU at least two wins as it struggled through its first losing season since 2016 and Contreraz has been on the good side and the bad side of that equation the past two weeks. It’s a lonely place to be — where success or failure hinges on one sweeping movement — but he’s comfortable amid the constant pressure. He chose this. And as noted above, he loves this.
“It’s a lot different than other positions on the field because you have one down to do your job,” said Contreraz, who is 5-for-8 on field goals this season. “Like, if you’re a quarterback and you mess up on first down, you have second and third down to bounce back. As a kicker you have one opportunity and you have to wait until the next drive. So the mental aspect is huge. You have to be completely locked in and laser-focused all the time.”
Contreraz’s sure-footed abilities have helped stabilize a position that remained frustratingly in flux last season for the Cyclones. They ranked 127th in field goal accuracy in 2022 (57.1 percent) — and while Contreraz struggled at Ohio, he’s been rock solid overall. He’s one of eight FBS kickers in the country to have made two or more 50-yard field goals this season, and even his misses have been struck well.
“He’s brought a sense of maturity and process of here’s what it takes to be successful at this level,” said ISU head coach Matt Campbell, whose team is 1-2 against the Sooners in Norman during his tenure. “I think that’s been really big for that specialist’s room. He’s been nothing short of incredible.”
Contreraz will need to continue residing in that rarified realm if the Cyclones hope to rebound from going 4-8 last season. He welcomes that pressure because now he’s trusted to overcome it instead of sitting on the sidelines. He gets to do what he loves, as outcomes hang in the balance.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do baseball or football in college,” the former five-sport athlete said. “When I went to my first kicking camp that’s when I kind of figured out that’s what my passion was. And here we are.”