Kyle Bambard can’t undo the past. But he wishes he could.
The N.C. State placekicker wishes he had made that 33-yard field goal at Clemson last season. It would have given the Wolfpack one of the biggest football wins in school history and made Kyle Bombard a name that Pack fans would fondly remember for years to come.
But he missed that field goal, on the final play of regulation on Oct. 15. The Pack lost the game in overtime, 24-17. There would be no walkoff victory in Death Valley, no signature moment for Bambard, then a sophomore. Only agony.
There was the social-media hell. These days, there is that to pay. Many of the things written about Bambard on Twitter and elsewhere were vile and profane and embarrassing for those who wrote and thought such things. A lot of cruelty can be packed into 140 characters.
“It can be brutal and it was brutal,” Bambard said in an interview Sunday. “In difficult times like that you do find out who has your back. It was this team, this staff, my family, my friends. I leaned on them every step of the way.”
If anything, it toughened him. He says he’s a competitor — “One hundred percent,” Bambard, a 5-8, 190-pound junior, said firmly — and he would not allow one bad play, or the social media hailstorm it caused, to defeat him.
“You know what, last year is last year,” Bambard said. “I learned from it. I’m a better player for it. I’m a better person for it. And I’m going to move on from it and compete my (butt) off this year.”
The week before that Clemson game, Bambard and the Wolfpack beat Notre Dame in the storm produced by Hurricane Matthew. Bambard, who had a field goal and extra-point in the 10-3 win, went sliding chest-first across the soaked and slick Carter-Finley Stadium field after it, his smile as wide as the hash marks. The week before that, in a win over Wake Forest, he had kicked a 48-yard field goal, a career-best.
“Everything was going well,” Bambard said.
Then Clemson. Nothing was the same for Bambard after that — he also missed kicks from 43 and 37 yards in that game — and the loss was the start of a four-game skid for the N.C. State.
Another missed big play
After missing a 31-yarder against Florida State on Nov. 5, Bambard was used only on kickoffs as graduate kicker Connor Haskins took over the placekicking. But the FSU game at Carter-Finley would also have another unforgettable, oh-no kind of a play.
Late in the fourth quarter, N.C. State safety Shawn Boone was in position to make an end-zone interception. Make the pick and the Wolfpack might run out the clock and win. But Boone dropped the ball. FSU went on to score and won 24-20.
If anyone could empathize with Bambard, with the sting that comes from failing to make a big play in a big game, it’s Boone.
“It’s real tough, because for me, as a competitor, I understand it,” Boone said Sunday. “I want to be the one to win the game for my team because that’s how I’ve always been driven. I want to make the play that everyone will remember and say, ‘Wow, that was an amazing play.’
“For me, after that Florida State game, it was big for me to have my team behind me. It’s very tough but as a team, as a family, we always support anyone no matter the situation.”
Support from a former kicker
Former N.C. State kicker Gerald Warren, wearing a floppy hat and white N.C. State golf shirt, stood patiently in line to see players giving autographs Sunday at Meet the Pack at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Warren only made it as far as Bambard, and asked to speak to him privately. Bambard left his seat.
When Bambard was lining up that field goal at Clemson, Warren was sitting in his easy chair in Durham. But out of the chair he came as Bambard’s kick sailed wide right.
“It broke my heart,” Warren said Sunday. “I knew what it was like. I knew what he felt like, absolutely.”
Warren on Sunday told Bambard he once missed a field goal that cost his high school in Elizabeth City a win over its archival.
“It destroyed me,” Warren said. “I was ready to quit. I did quit, for a few days. But I came back.”
Warren went on to play at N.C. State. He led the nation in field goals as a junior in 1967, on arguably the Wolfpack’s best team ever. He was named to All-American teams in 1967 and ’68.
“I told him you can come back, it’s as simple as that,” Warren said. “You can get over it. I’ve been there and done that and I wanted him to know that a Wolfpacker had gone through the same thing.”
Warren and Bambard talked about technique and the mental side of kicking. He noted that Bambard converted five field goals in the Kay Yow Spring Game. Finally, they shook hands and Warren scooted out through the crowd.
“Just some encouragement, more than anything,” Warren said of what he told Bambard. “With the performance in the spring game, he has earned a right at the job this year.”
However, that placekicking job right now belongs to Carson Wise, a transfer from Carson-Newman. He was brought in to be the kicker by N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, who said Sunday that Bambard would handle kickoffs.
“While it may not be my turn right now,” Bambard said, “if my number is called I’ll be ready. I believe I have a lot to offer for this team.”
‘Don’t ever give up’
Bambard is fairly active on Twitter, posting photos of former football teammates from Walled Lake Western High in Michigan, where Bambard was a dual-threat quarterback (29-6 as a starter) and the placekicker and punter.
Before enrolling at N.C. State in the spring of 2015, Bambard posted a photo of the late Jim Valvano making his 1993 ESPY speech. Below the photo he wrote: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” — Jimmy V.
The words of the former N.C. State basketball coach resonated with Bambard — then and now.
“Coach Valvano couldn’t have said it any better,” Bambard said. “And to be a part of this university and kind of follow his story is an inspiration to me.”
Bambard could have quit and transferred after last year, seeking a new start elsewhere. Instead, he stayed in Raleigh this summer and worked as an intern on the Wolfpack’s strength and conditioning staff.
Bambard’s father, Eric, once played at Lake Western High and said he coached his son in youth football and later at the high school. One bit of fatherly advice remained the same: put the bad plays behind you and move on.
That includes that missed field goal at Clemson, regardless of how painful it was.
“At the end of the day, that’s life,” Kyle Bambard said. “While things may not have gone my way last year, it’s difficult sometimes to see the big picture. What happened last year and some of the events of last year really allowed me to step back, find out who my friends are and who I can lean on and really grasp the big picture and say, yeah, that one play or that one game had a big impact but we can bounce back from that.”
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