As kickoff neared and the nerves began to set in for true freshman Colin Downing he looked into the stands.
There, sitting in the front row, was the man he was replacing. Downing, a punter out of Whitefish Bay, Wis., caught eyes with former Iowa State punter Kirby Van Der Kamp. The two gave each other a wave, Van Der Kamp in a sense passing the punting baton off to the newcomer.
“That was a little reassuring,” Downing said.
After what Downing described as a rough fall camp and a rough preparation week for North Dakota State, there was no lack of production in his debut. His first punt sailed along the sideline 38 yards and pinned the Bison inside the 20 while his second hung up in the air forcing a fair catch.
The nerves followed Downing up and down the sideline throughout his debut, but when he ran onto the field he relaxed.
“When I was on the field I wasn’t nervous,” Downing said. “It was the sideline, the anticipation of punting when I got nervous. I almost didn’t even notice I was on the field, I was doing my thing like I was at camp pretty much.”
Downing’s third punt, if there was a need, brought the freshman to life. The snap went through his hands and Downing was forced to quickly recover. He punted the ball 46 yards on the move.
“He panicked and he truly punted a ball for the first time,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “He hit it out of panic, and after that I told him, ‘Now you know you can go punt it. Now lets just fundamentally execute and go punt the ball.’ After that he was lights out.”
“I think that helped a little bit,” Downing added. “Experiencing dropping the ball and kind of having to rush myself, but getting a good punt off kind of relaxed me.”
Downing capped his debut with six punts, averaging 45.7 yards per punt while booming a 56-yard punt inside the 20 in the second half. The freshman, who arrived at Iowa State as a three-star punter, has big shoes to fill.
Van Der Kamp became the face of Iowa State punting for the last four seasons, averaging 42.4 yards per punt during his career, the second-best average in Iowa State history and ranked No. 21 in NCAA history (minimum 250 punts). He also downed 99 punts inside the 20 and booted 71 punts of 50-yard or more.
“I’m not going to try to be Kirby,” Downing said. “I’m going to be my own guy.”
Rhoads used 202 words to rave about Downing Monday before proclaiming: “That’s the longest I’ve ever talked about a punter in my life.” He also reminded Downing on Sunday that he still hasn’t fully arrived.
The true freshman is well aware.
“I’m really trying to not let myself get too far ahead,” Downing said. “It was just one game. Everyone has a good game, mine just happened to be my first game, which makes a lot of people think, ‘Oh, he’s going to be great.’
"I’ve still got to play the rest of the year.”