Kicking has taken Kaedin Steindorf to great heights
Boys with athletic aspirations typically dream of hitting a home run in the World Series, catching a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, or maybe sinking a last-second shot to win an NBA Championship or NCAA title.
But while Sherwood's Kaedin Steindorf had many of those same dreams, he's living a different one now as the starting punter for the FCS national champion North Dakota State University Bison.
"Coach (Nick) Goeser messaged me on Twitter and asked if I wanted to have an opportunity to be a walk-on punter for NDSU football, and that's all he said," Steindorf said. "I was like, 'Absolutely.' And I talked it over with my family and I was like, 'I have a chance to go to a dynasty program and possibly play later on in my career. Why wouldn't I want to do that?'"
That was almost two years ago. Since then, Steindorf worked his way from the fifth man on the depth chart to the team's starting punter, sometimes kickoff specialist, and full-time holder — something he doesn't take for granted.
"This isn't a place where you're handed stuff. You've got to earn it," he said. "When I first got here, my job was to be the best backup punter in the nation. Since, I've become the sole owner of the first spot, and I've gone from the hunter to the hunted."
Steindorf's journey to Fargo was filled with twists and turns. Despite his father being a junior college All-America kicker and winning a NAIA national championship at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Kaedin didn't dip his toe in kicking until an injury pushed him in that direction.
Baseball was his first love, but after breaking his arm during his freshman season, he was looking around for something to occupy his time. Because his dad had kicked, and he'd played soccer growing up, he suggested his dad teach him the tricks of the trade.
They worked on fundamentals, and come that fall, Steindorf was strapping on the helmet as the Bowmen's starting kicker.
"Honestly, I just wanted to be able to say I played football," he said. "Yeah, I'm a kicker, but I still played, and I just took that to heart. I didn't catch, I didn't run, I didn't throw, but if they put it on the block, it was my job to put it between the uprights."
And he did that job so well that he earned a spot in a series of elite kicking camps, later traveling to Austin, Texas, for a showcase with nearly 100 high school specialists from across the nation. By the time Kaedin finished with that showcase, he had finished fourth overall and had become a "hot prospect" with eyes on an opportunity to play at the collegiate level, which he parlayed into the opportunity at NDSU.
Steindorf said he owes much of his success to his dad, Jeff, who has taught him the nuances of the kicking game. Even beyond the field, he said the game — and the kicking aspect of it — has been good for their relationship.
"We've definitely gotten closer," Kaedin Steindorf said. "It's like when we were inside the house, we were farther apart than we are with me being 1,500 miles away."
Steindorf said that Fargo is an acquired taste. He'd never been there prior to he and his family driving across the country to drop him off his freshman year.
At the time of Steindorf's interview with The Times, it was -9 degrees Fahrenheit in Fargo, and he said when he'd gone to class that morning, it was -17. But he said he's grown used to both the weather and the unusually flat terrain.
"It's a joke around here that you don't come to one of the Dakotas for the scenery, you come here for the sports," he said with a chuckle. "That's definitely how you have to look at it at first. But I've grown to love it."
Maybe it helps that the Bison are winning. NDSU football has won nine of the last 11 FCS national titles, including this past season after defeating Montana State 38-10.
Steindorf said that it was both exciting and rewarding being part of a national championship team, but he said he'd be lying if he said it wasn't nerve-wracking.
"It was like in the 40s temperature-wise, and before the game, I was sweating so bad," he said. "I was really nervous, and for that first punt, it was like all of my jitters from the beginning of the season came back, and it was something I'll never, ever forget."
Something else he'll not soon forget was what happened during a game earlier this season against South Dakota. On fourth-and-four in the third quarter of their game against the Coyotes, Steindorf got the call that they were running a fake punt. It's a play that the punter said the Bison had practiced a number of times, but prior to that moment, he hadn't run it in a game.
Steindorf took the snap, ran to his left, eventually cut up field, and 18 yards later, he was upended by a South Dakota defender. The play was a success, but for him, it was also a means of ingratiating him more to the team.
"There's a video of the reactions from the guys on the team, and it made me feel appreciated and more a part of the team," he said. "They were like, 'He doesn't just kick, he can actually run with the ball.'"
Steindorf's dad saw things differently from their home in Sherwood and was beside himself watching the action play out.
"My heart was in my throat," Jeff Steindorf said. "I'm sitting there watching without any idea what's about to happen, and he took off running and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, what are you doing?'"
Well, it worked out. And hopefully, so will the rest of Steindorf's time in Fargo.
Steindorf is studying sport management with a minor in business and plans to get a master's degree in sport management as well. Steindorf said he always has loved sports, and he'd like to be an athletic director at the collegiate level.
"I just don't see my life without sports," he said, "And if I'm not able to help the next generation of athletes, I feel like my purpose won't have been fulfilled."
But there's still football to be played, and with three more years of eligibility, Steindorf hopes to make the most of his time at NDSU and maybe continue on the gridiron beyond it.
"This year we had the highest number of FCS players on NFL active rosters with 13," Steindorf said. "That's obviously an opportunity every kid dreams of, and that would be astonishing just to get a chance."
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