Iowa State Cyclones

Kyle Kempt leads Matt Campbell's island of misfit toys at Iowa State

Quarterback has remained respected team leader despite losing starting job

Iowa State's Brock Purdy, left, Kyle Kempt, center, and Mike Rose, right, celebrate their 40-31 victory over Texas Tech in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Ames. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)
Iowa State's Brock Purdy, left, Kyle Kempt, center, and Mike Rose, right, celebrate their 40-31 victory over Texas Tech in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Ames. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)

AMES — It’s after Thanksgiving, so that means it’s officially Christmas time.

One of the great Christmas movies of all time is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

In the movie, for those unfamiliar, Rudolph, a reindeer that has a glowing red nose, finds an island of misfit toys after he’s cast away from Santa and the other reindeer in the North Pole for having the glowing red nose. Long story short, Rudolph finds all of the misfit toys a home where they will be loved and not be seen as castaways.

“I say this to our kids all the time: we’re the land of the misfit toys, right? There are no 4-star, 5-star players — there’s no 4-star coach,” Campbell said after No. 25 Iowa State beat Kansas State 42-38 Saturday. “Every one of us had to come from the ground up. What we have to do is we have to work harder, we have to study harder, we have to prepare harder and develop harder than anybody we play. And that’s OK. That’s who we are.

“I think Kyle (Kempt) is the epitome of that. In the island of the misfit toys, he might as well be the leader of the misfit toys.”

Kempt, a sixth-year quarterback, has been a journeyman throughout his college career. He started at Oregon State out of high school before transferring to Hutchison Community College. He never played at either place.

He walked onto Campbell’s Iowa State team and after a season and a half, he started his first game against No. 3 Oklahoma last season, which he won.

Kempt was such a misfit toy that the NCAA granted him a waiver for a sixth year of eligibility. Not for injury, but because he was “run off” at the other institutions.

“I’ve said this and I’ll continue to say this, I really think the character and actions of what Kyle Kempt has stood for — it doesn’t happen in our profession, it doesn’t happen with 18-to-22-year-olds, but it happened here,” Campbell said. “What he did from Oklahoma a year ago to the character that he’s shown through this stretch, I don’t know if you can ever match it.

“What he did this year was more powerful than what he did last year because it’s humility, it’s character, it’s when everybody expects you to do one thing, you do the other thing and he stood up and did the right thing. It’s really hard to do that. For forever, he’ll go down as one of the greatest young men I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach.”

Campbell was able to reward Kempt on Saturday on the final play of the game.

On senior day, Kempt took the final knee to end a 10-year losing streak to Kansas State. It was the only play of the game for him.

“Man, I don’t know if I could’ve scripted it any better to be honest with you with Kyle Kempt coming in,” Campbell said. “It was an emotional day for me because I love Kyle.”

Kempt’s teammates recognize what he means to them and the program.

“Seeing Kyle come out, it humbles you in a big sense,” running back David Montgomery said. “Somebody holding out for so long and being able to contribute to the team in another way besides playing. He’s been through a lot, but for him to keep going like he does, it’s mesmerizing. I’m grateful to be around it.”

Campbell hopes Kempt’s story will reach beyond the walls of the Bergstrom Football Complex, Iowa State’s practice facility.

“What Kyle Kempt is doing, hopefully young student-athletes outside of our realm can look at that someday and say, ‘Man, I hope I can be like that guy when I grow up,’” Campbell said. “I think he even teaches us coaches that hopefully we can be like that guy as we continue to coach and do our jobs.”

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