TAMA - South Tama County senior Sam Kuhter had a lot of reasons to want to play football for the Northern Iowa football team.
But what he needed to see most was missing for most of the recruitment process. That was until a player from Northern Iowa announced he was transferring.
That roster opening was just what Kuhter was looking for as the Trojan senior signed his National Letter of Intent to play football for the Panthers on Tuesday, joining a long list of family members who have donned the purple and gold.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
South Tama County senior Sam Kuhter signed his National Letter of Intent to play football for the University of Northern Iowa on Tuesday in the STC High School library. Kuhter is pictured with his parents, Ann and George Kuhter, and STC football coaches Dustin Peska (special teams), Jay Hoskey (head coach) and Nate Doran (defensive coordinator).
"UNI wasn't even an option for the longest time because they didn't really need a punter," said Kuhter, who averaged 39 yards per punt this past season for the Trojans. "Then one of their punters transferred and I was able to work my way onto the roster."
Kuhter will join the Panthers as a preferred walk-on with the hopes of winning the starting punting job in the fall. If that happens, he will likely be given a scholarship the following season.
"They told me it is an open competition with another guy and that after one year of success, I could be on scholarship the following year," said Kuhter, who chose the Panthers over other preferred walk-on opportunities from Missouri, Illinois State and Western Illinois.
"It feels good to finally get it signed. It's been a long journey. It is a dream come true to play Division I football."
Kuhter could have been playing in the Southeastern Conference for the Missouri Tigers but said they had a junior punter and the opportunity to play right away at Northern Iowa ended being the difference.
The Trojan senior also may not know anything other than Northern Iowa after both his parents - George and Ann - graduated from there along with two of his uncles - Joe and Phil Paxson - and his grandfather Dick Paxson. He also has a cousin who currently attends the university.
"I have pretty much grown up in the UNI-Dome, and I have pretty much been purple since the day I was born," said Kuhter, who also played quarterback for the 9-3 Trojans this past season. "It had a big impact on my decision. I grew up watching UNI games. I think I watched my first game there when I was in my car seat. I have always wanted to play there."
Kuhter remembers punting back in the third grade. He admitted to not really knowing what he was doing back then but he was always good at it. It wasn't until the fall of his junior season that he realized maybe it was something he could do in college.
"I went to a camp in the fall of my junior year and I was the best one there," said Kuhter. "I went to Dallas, Texas, over Thanksgiving break and won that camp for my age group. I then thought I could actually be a punter in college.
"Then the coaches at the Missouri camp told me that I was the best punter they had ever seen come through their camps and I also finished sixth out of 98 punters at the Kohl's Kicking Camp."
South Tama County coach Jay Hoskey said Kuhter still has plenty of room to grow.
"The nice thing is that I don't think he has reached his potential there yet," said Hoskey. "He had to concentrate on a lot of things this year. I think he can shine now that he doesn't have to do those other things. His best is yet to come."
Both Kuhter and Hoskey feel like focusing on just punting and not worrying about quarterback and playing free safety will help in his development as a specialty player.
"He was a big weapon," Hoskey said. "He could get us out of a hole and put the other team in a hole. He punted better at the beginning of the year before we put him in there defensively."
Another deciding factor in his decision to play football in Cedar Falls was the proximity of the campus in relation to his hometown.
"I can still stay in touch with friends back home, and it is a short drive for my family and friends to come see me play," Kuhter said.
He also will have a few friends on campus with him. Erik Lux - the STC fullback this past year - will wrestle at Northern Iowa and linebacker Austin Lowe also will be enrolled at the school. Brandon Nelson, a 2012 graduate, is transferring from Iowa State to the Northern Iowa track and field and cross country teams. Brady Ellenbecker also may run at Northern Iowa, too.
"I am proud of Sam," Hoskey said. "He has done all the right things for us the past four years. And he has worked hard to get to where he is going."
Kuhter threw for 875 yards and six touchdowns last year as the STC quarterback and also ran for 565 yards and 10 scores. His longest punt of the season covered 63 yards.