Kempt embraces top job after long road to Iowa St.

AP PHOTO - Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt walks across the field during the Cyclone football team’s annual media day event on Aug. 7 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.

AMES — For the first time in a career spanning six seasons and three schools, Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt will finally enter a campaign as a No. 1 quarterback.

Kempt and the Cyclones couldn’t be happier about it.

Kempt, who turned around a remarkably unremarkable career in 2017 by throwing 15 touchdowns in eight starts and leading Iowa State to a bowl win, was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in the offseason.

Kempt is finally getting fall workout repetitions with the rest of the starters, and he’ll be behind center when the Cyclones (8-5 in 2017) host South Dakota State on Sept. 1.

“It’s a lot different. It helps my confidence,” Kempt said about being the starter. “I’ve really been building on it this summer, and it’s really been a big help for me.”

Kempt also enters the season as one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the pass-happy Big 12.

That, in and of itself, remains one of the bigger surprises in program history.

Kempt’s past has been a major story line since the day he led the Cyclones to a win at Oklahoma as a 31-point underdog in his first start last October. But that doesn’t make it any less stunning that a guy once ranked as just the 71st prospect in his own state of Ohio — a player who rode the bench for two years at Oregon State before walking on at Iowa State — is now a centerpiece of a team many think can actually compete for a league title.

Kempt set the school record with a 66.3 percent completion rate a year ago, and credited the simple act of hitting the open man rather than looking for the big play as crucial to his success.

“You see the people in the (NFL), the guys with great arms and all that, they only last so long. Accuracy and decision making are the two traits that are going to carry you in the long run,” Kempt said.

Kempt, whose years on the bench gave him a self-described “crisis of confidence,” has taken the opportunity to be a starter seriously. He has put on 15 pounds since the end of last season, and quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon said Kempt was in the film room “every single day” this summer working on his craft.

“When he got done in the spring, it was clear that he’s motivated and driven to get better,” Gordon said. “He’s a really mature guy, and everyone knows his story now. But he was in a lot of quarterback meetings where he wasn’t the one where the questions were directed toward. He didn’t let that faze him for a long time. So there was no doubt that we knew that this is a guy that’s mature, he works at it really hard and, when he got his chance, he made the most of it.”

One of the other reasons that Iowa State was so elated to get Kempt back was that the players behind him are about as inexperienced as can be.

Sophomore Zeb Noland, Kempt’s backup, was 36-of-66 passing for 533 yards and two TDs a year ago, including a win in his only start over Baylor. Noland is the clear No. 2 ahead of freshmen Brock Purdy, Re-al Mitchell and Devon Moore, and he has joined Kempt for many of those film sessions.

“We’re critical on each other because we trust each other,” Noland said. “When you have a bad play, sometimes you hang your head a little bit. But when I or he can come off and have someone to talk to, I think that makes it (easier).”