Punter ignores cold, comes to U

Todd Zolecki

It didn’t take long for Gophers punter Steve Kemph to figure out Minnesota is a bit different than his hometown in Chicago.
Kemph made his recruiting visit to the University last January. He remembers it well.
“My coat froze on me,” he said. “If you don’t move around for a while it’ll freeze. Then when you move, it cracks.”
Chicago isn’t exactly tropical during January, but Kemph visited the Twin Cities when the temperature dipped to 45 degrees below zero.
Kemph, who attended Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, decided to come to the University anyway. The only other Gophers player from Illinois is offensive lineman John Albrecht (Springfield).
The freshman punter has been asked several times why he passed up programs like Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan for the Gophers. He called it a gut feeling.
“I felt like something is going to happen here,” he said. “I didn’t even know much about the school at all. I didn’t know how long they were losing or anything. I just liked it.”
Plus, Kemph admits, he gets to kick half his games in the Metrodome. No weather, no wind. Perfect for a punter.
The Gophers needed a strong punter. Last year Garrison Harmann averaged 36 yards a punt. Sophomore Tim Grate, who handled most of the punting duties toward the end of last year, averaged 39.8 yards. Between the two, Minnesota’s punting was ranked next to last in the Big Ten.
The Gophers recruited Kemph because he averaged 44 yards per kick during his senior season of high school. He was named SuperPrep magazine and Blue Chip Illustrated all-American.
Frank Lenti, Kemph’s coach at Mount Carmel, talked to Gophers recruiting coordinator Mark Tommerdahl about Kemph a few times last year.
Mount Carmel has produced several standout players like Arizona Cardinals defensive end Simeon Rice and New York Giants wide receiver Chris Calloway.
“I told him I thought it would be a good idea for (Minnesota) to get into the area,” Lenti said. “A punter of Steve’s caliber is going to attract a lot of attention. Most colleges want a guy to walk on and get a scholarship for only a year or two.”
Kemph said he was a little surprised to see the Gophers recruiting at Carmel.
“Every year there’s a lot of recruiters from different schools at Carmel but I never saw Minnesota there,” he said.
Kemph said he liked the Gophers coaching staff, the players and the facilities.
“I was really impressed with the school,” he said. “I think that helped. I was kind of overwhelmed.”
So far Kemph is averaging 41 yards after four punts. Grate is averaging 36.5 yards.
“I’ll be better,” Kemph said. “It’s been slow for me. I’m not really disappointed. I know I have it.
“When you kick a good punt it’s like hitting a baseball, just like hitting a homer. You can feel it.”
He still isn’t used to the weather yet. Wednesday at practice Kemph froze with his jersey on, and the hairs on his arms stood on end.
“I have to get used to this,” he said. “When are they going to give us sleeves?”
Besides the weather, Kemph has a good feeling about the Gophers’ chances this season. He said team camaraderie is high.
“We’re tight,” he said. “We stick together. I like it a lot. We’re going to do stuff.”