AMES — When Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt got his extra year of eligibility, fellow quarterback Zeb Noland was the first to find out.
They were in the training room when Kempt found out. Noland went over and gave him a big hug.
“I told him that I wouldn’t want it any other way because me and him are really close,” Noland said. “We hang out nonstop. It was kind of a sigh of relief for me because we’re each other’s right-hand man. Coaches coach, but you always have to have somebody to turn to. We make each other laugh and smile when something is going bad.”
Noland and Kempt came into Iowa State’s program at the same time, Noland as an early enrollee freshman and Kempt as a walk-on. From that point on, Kempt has taken him under his wing.
“I’m proud of him every day,” Kempt said. “He’s come so far from when he first came here. We’ve been really close ever since then. The biggest growth is probably on the mental side — he has every physical ability — but you can see him learning every single day and his accuracy has improved greatly. He has a great future.”
Kempt and Noland started games last season. Kempt is the more methodical of the two, will nickel-and-dime a defense until the offense reaches the end zone. Noland has a big arm and isn’t afraid to throw the ball 40 yards down the sideline.
While Kempt is probably the front-runner to start in 2018, neither is worried about the depth chart.
“We don’t even think about that,” Noland said. “We just go out there and try and complete as many passes as we can. The battle is the last thing on our minds. That’s irrelevant.”
Kempt is only focused on eliminating the errors he saw in himself last season, a season in which he broke Iowa State’s single-season completion percentage record.
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“If we’re going to flip this program and not let last year be a fluke year per se, I have to be able to play with those high expectations,” Kempt said. “It’s part of the job. To be one of the best teams in the Big 12 you have to have high-level quarterback play.”
He thinks about his three losses more than his five wins. He admits he can be too hard on himself.
“That’s probably something to a fault,” Kempt said. “My parents have to be like, ‘You need to relax a little bit. You’re being a little too hard on yourself.’ I’d rather play that way than be lackadaisical with it. If I’m out there striving to be perfect ... and I fall a smidgen below that, then that’s pretty good.”
Iowa State quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon is just happy he has two returning quarterbacks who have experienced success.
“I feel as good as we practice,” Gordon said. “I kind of live through those guys. To have those two guys who have gone out and done it is better than having one and way better than having none. It gives us a great starting point.”
Beyond the starting point is early enrollee Re-al Mitchell, who already has turned heads. Coach Matt Campbell said there could be some situations where Mitchell comes in next season.
Mitchell brings a completely different skill set than Kempt and Nolan, who are mostly pocket passers. Mitchell brings an added element of speed.
“That boy has got (speed),” Noland said. “I’d like to see him and (running back) Kene (Nwangwu) race. That’d be a good one.”
But Mitchell brings a lot more to the table than speed.
“He’s really smart, No. 1,” Gordon said. “Everybody talks about, and we’ll talk about, how athletic he is. He is athletic. He’s different in that regard. He’s never been here before. Everybody else has heard concepts and play calls. It’s been really good. He’s a really good guy, he’s smart, he asks really good questions.
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“He brings a — I’m at a loss for words to what he brings to the room. He keeps everybody happy because he’s a really good guy. And he’s going to be a really good quarterback, too. He brings a fresh set of eyes. These plays are brand new to him on Day 8 of practice.”
The quarterbacks room has changed a lot from when Kempt first got to Ames.
“I think we have a really talented quarterback room,” Kempt said. “Zeb is going to continue to grow. He’s going to be a great guy for this program going forward. Re-al coming in early has been great. I just think the past years I’ve been here, we haven’t had great numbers, but now I think we’re going to get to the point, with Brock (Purdy) coming in during the summer, that we’re going to have a great room to develop. And it’s up to me to take all of those guys under my wing. Zeb’s a part of that, too, because he’s an older guy.
“We have to develop as a unit.”
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