South Tama County senior Sam Kuhter dreamed of playing collegiate sports on the highest level for as long as he can remember and now he'll be making that dream come true this fall.
Kuhter, a four-sport athlete, for the Trojans could have chosen basketball, baseball or track as his route to college. However, he found his ticket playing on the gridiron. The two-year starting quarterback didn't see the path to NCAA Div. I football until after completing his junior season at STC.
Following the 2011 football season, Kuhter was invited to a punting camp in Dallas. Having never been to Texas, he traveled with his parents - George and Ann - to Dallas during Thanksgiving break. He won his age group at the camp and the light bulb turned on in his head.
South Tama County senior Sam Kuhter, seated center, signed his National Letter of Intent to play football for the University of Northern Iowa last month in the STC High School library. Kuhter is pictured with his parents, Ann and George Kuhter. Standing are STC football coaches Dustin Peska (special teams), Jay Hoskey (head coach) and Nate Doran (defensive coordinator).
"I realized then that I might be able to do this in college," Kuhter said.
In the following spring, Kuhter traveled to the University of Missouri for another camp. Once again, his skills shined and his abilities began to be noticed by coaches.
"Those guys told me, 'You are by far the best punter we've seen come through our camps,'" Kuhter said. "They said I could really do something with this."
Kuhter attended more camps and even landed a spot at the elite Kohl's Kicking Camp in Wisconsin last summer. His talents shined brightly as he placed sixth out of 190 campers.
Soon after the camp, Kuhter began sending information to college football coaches and several reached out to him with interest. Those with interest included Illinois State University, Western Illinois University and the University of Missouri. After visiting Missouri and Illinois State, Kuhter's dream came calling.
University of Northern Iowa reached out to Kuhter after this fall's season and invited him for a visit. The Panthers lost their possible punter, who transferred at semester, so they were needing someone for this fall.
"UNI wasn't even an option for the longest time because they didn't really need a punter," said Kuhter, who averaged 39 yards per punt this past season for the Trojans. "Then one of their punters transferred and I was able to work my way onto the roster."
A couple of months later, Kuhter made it official. On June 4, he signed a National Letter of Intent to play football for the Panthers. He signed it in the STC library with his parents and football coaches in the room.
"I've known for a long time, but if feels good to finally have it signed," Kuhter said. "It's nice to take some pictures, because those will last a lifetime. It's been a long journey. As a kid, I dreamed about playing Div. I football and now I'm finally signed on to play Div. I football. It's like a dream come true."
He will join a long list of family members who have called UNI home. Both of his parents, two uncles - Joe and Phil Paxson - and his grandfather - Dick Paxson - all graduated from UNI. He also has a cousin who currently attends the university.
"I grew up a Panther," Kuhter said. "I've pretty much grown up in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. My grandparents live in Waterloo. I've pretty much been purple since the day I was born."
"It had a big impact," he added. "That's who I grew up watching. I first went to UNI games when I was in a car seat. I always dreamed about playing in the dome. I wanted to do that in high school, but didn't get that chance. Now that I get to play there in college, it's awesome."
Another deciding factor in his decision to play football in Cedar Falls was the proximity of the campus in relation to his hometown.
"I can still stay in touch with friends back home, and it is a short drive for my family and friends to come see me play," Kuhter said.
He also will have a few friends on campus with him. Erik Lux - the STC fullback this past year - will wrestle at Northern Iowa and linebacker Austin Lowe also will be enrolled at the school. Brandon Nelson, a 2012 graduate, is transferring from Iowa State to the Northern Iowa track and field and cross country teams.
STC head coach Jay Hoskey was thrilled for his star punter and quarterback.
"I'm proud of him," Hoskey said. "He's had a great career and really exceptional year this last year. He's done all of the right things. He could play some quarterback, too, but playing punter is his ticket right now and he's not even reached his potential. This year, he had to concentrate on a lot of things. It's tough to be good at everything, all at the same time."
Kuhter will join the Panthers as a preferred walk-on with the hopes of becoming their staring punter this fall. If that happens, he will earn a scholarship beginning his sophomore year, according to Kuhter.
"It's an open competition this fall," Kuhter said. "It's completely open right now," Kuhter said. "When I get there, they will start judging us. That was a big part of it, knowing that I would have an open competition and a fair shot at getting a starting job this fall."
Although Kuhter was a starter on the Trojans' basketball team, baseball team and leading long jumper on the track squad, he is happy to continue his athletic career on the football field.
"I think my favorite sport changed with the season," Kuhter said. "When basketball came, it would be basketball. When baseball came, it was baseball. In high school, I really fell in love with football after my freshman year.
"That's what I pushed for - to play at the next level, with Div. I of course being the highest," he said. "I'm undersized as a quarterback, so I knew I probably couldn't be a major Div. I quarterback. I was pretty good at punting, so I thought maybe I could go in punting. Then all of the camps starting happening. Then it became a reality."
Beginning next month, he won't have those other sports to focus on. He'll just have punting on his mind.
"I've never had the time to focus on one thing," Kuhter said. "It might benefit me, because I can focus all of my time on that at practice."
Kuhter was chosen as the Des Moines Register's Class 3A All-State Second Team punter. He attempted 34 punts and averaged 39.1 yards per punt, which ranked sixth in 3A. However, the five players above him attempted five or fewer punts.
He also threw for 875 yards and six touchdowns last year as the STC quarterback and also ran for 565 yards and 10 scores.
Kuhter's athletic ability and experience at the quarterback position could be used as a weapon for the Panthers.
"They talked about that," Kuhter said of the opportunity for a fake punt. "I mentioned that I played quarterback and free safety. I also told them the other sports I played. They were impressed with how athletic I was for a punter, so they started talking about fakes and reading the defense as a quarterback to carry out those fakes."
Hoskey, who said Kuhter is one of the best squatters in the STC weight room, recognizes all of the talents Kuhter brings to the table and knows he will only continue to improve.
"He was a big weapon for us," Hoskey said. "He could put the other team into a hole to start a possession. He punted better at the beginning of the year before that Newton game where we had to put him in at free safety.
"The nice thing is that I don't think he has reached his potential there yet," said Hoskey. "He had to concentrate on a lot of things this year. I think he can shine now that he doesn't have to do those other things. His best is yet to come."