AMES — Not even Kyle Kempt could believe how calm he was on Saturday when he took the field at then-No. 3 Oklahoma.
The backup quarterback was thrust into the spotlight when Jacob Park took a leave for personal health issues.
“To be honest I was probably more nervous in high school, or even in practice,” Kempt said. “It was a little surreal being that calm in the game.”
His coaches and teammates took notice, too.
After the first scoring drive when Kempt nickel-and-dimed the offense down the field, both Allen Lazard and Jake Campos saw Kempt settle into the quarterback position and knew the Cyclones had a chance to win.
Campos said before the game, Kempt was going over the game plan, not getting caught up in any of the hype.
“Kyle’s a guy who’s all about the details — he doesn’t get picked up in the hype or anything,” Campos said. “Having that guy back there and the poise that he showed really gives you confidence and shows that you’re going to be in the game.”
Running back David Montgomery said it’s almost unnerving how calm Kempt is at all times.
“He might be the calmest person I’ve ever met in my life,” Montgomery said. “When things get tough, he’s calm. When I’m wild, he’s calm. When I’m calm, he’s calm. Sometimes I don’t know how to handle him. Sometimes I don’t know he’s there and he’s the quarterback. Him being so calm is definitely something we enjoy.”
What makes Kempt so calm?
Stoically answered, his upbringing.
He’s always been calm.
When he was asked about winning the Davey O’Brien quarterback of the week, the first Cyclone to ever win the award, his response was one for the stoic-answer record book.
“It’s cool,” he said with no voice inflection. “It’s one week. The focus is on this week now.”
But what about the game-winning throw to Lazard ... the pass to the corner of the end zone that Iowa State uses in the red-zone weekly?
The one that Campos loves blocking for because he can see the ball sail over his head as he finishes his block.
“I just say touchdown every time because Allen’s going to go get that ball,” Campos said.
Well it was just another play in the drive.
“We get into the position where I’m not even thinking about, ‘This is the game-winning throw,’” Kempt said. “I’m thinking about, ‘Hey, let’s execute this play.’ And we ended up scoring.”
Not even offensive coordinator Tom Manning was that calm during the play.
“Holy bad word probably,” Manning said of his reaction to the throw and catch. “Like oh my gosh what did he just do? That’s pretty awesome. We felt he was going to throw that ball and that’s a ball that he throws pretty good.”
Lazard said it was probably a ball that shouldn’t have been thrown to him because the safety was there helping out the cornerback.
“But he put the ball in a great spot for me to go high-point it and make a play,” Lazard said.
Kempt went from a no-name walk-on without a scholarship to the hero of the game.
But he didn’t get there by accident. He asked coach Matt Campbell repeatedly what he needed to do to become the guy and to get better.
“I think that’s what allowed us to have such confidence saying that’s the guy, that’s the guy who’s going to do everything we need him to do, to at least give us a chance to be successful,” Campbell said. “He’s a fantastically intelligent young man but his work ethic and preparation is everything. Everyone was like, ‘Gosh, he’s so stoic.’ To be honest, that’s Kyle all the time.”
His teammates echoed Campbell. No matter what he’s doing, Kempt is calm and stoic. He doesn’t want the attention or credit.
“Playing this position, you get all the positive attention and you get all the negative attention, too,” Kempt said. “My job is to distribute the ball to our playmakers. These guys made all the plays out there on Saturday, I just happened to be getting all of the credit because of the position I play.”