The immediate future always seemed clear to Nate Kaeding once he became an elite kicker.
His rise from a standout athlete at West High, University of Iowa and then in the NFL brought with it a lifestyle that was laid out for him on an almost hourly basis.
That’s no longer the case for the 31-year old Kaeding, who announced his retirement from the NFL Thursday after a nine-year career spent mostly with the San Diego Chargers.
“Honestly, it creates a little bit of anxiety, but it’s also real exciting,” said Kaeding, who is Iowa’s all-time leading scorer in football with a career 373 points. “It’s always a tricky transition for anybody coming out of sports because everything is laid for you when you’re a professional athlete.
“You’re preparing for your first practice or your first game or the next game or whatever that next goal might be. It’s right in front of you and the results are always tangible and the feedback is direct. You make it or you miss it. And that’s something you just can’t replicate outside of the sports world.”
Kaeding said a nagging groin injury finally convinced him that it was time to retire as a kicker. In early April, he signed a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he said his body wouldn’t cooperate.
“Your body is one of those things you have to understand that some things are just out of your control,” said Kaeding, who retires as the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history after having made 86.2 percent of his career attempts. “The leg in the end was just kind of worn out. It just got worn out and couldn’t stand up to the rigors of kicking in the NFL, which is three or four days a week of practice and a lot of kicks on game day.
“You’ve got to do that for six months and it just got to the point where I realized I just didn’t have it in the leg anymore.”
Kaeding said the only thing he knows for certain about his future is that he plans to live full time in Iowa City with his wife, Samantha, and their three children. He has invested in several local restaurants and is helping to launch a local youth flag football league.
Kaeding also has an interest in coaching and would even consider doing it full time at the collegiate level if presented with the right opportunity.
“You go through a wide variety of things with all the different levels I’ve been in and I’ve got a real passion for education,” said Kaeding, who graduated from West in 2000. “And I think there isn’t a better way to teach all the intangible qualities in terms of leadership and determination and respect and responsibility through sports.
“And I think coaching is one of the greatest and highest forms of teaching that you can find. If there is the right opportunity out there for me to get involved in one way shape or form somewhere here in this community, that would be high on my list.”
Kaeding also wouldn’t rule out running for public office when asked about his interest in politics.
“My ultimate goal will be to try to find work where the needs of this community and my talents intersect,” Kaeding said.
Steve Bergman was Kaeding’s basketball coach at West and still holds the position. West has won the last two state titles in boys basketball and also won a state title with Kaeding playing as a senior in 2000.
“A couple of times over his football career he came back here and scouted for me,” Bergman said. “He did a great job. He watched film and he would break it down.
“I know he’s told me before that he’s interested in coaching and I think he’s really enjoyed what he’s done with basketball. He’s obviously bright. And anything that he has ever put his mind to he’s been pretty good at.”
Kaeding is part owner of Short’s Burger and Shine, which has two locations in Iowa City. He also is part owner of the restaurant, Stella, located on Melrose Avenue about a block from Kinnick Stadium where Kaeding became an all-America kicker for the Hawkeyes.
“I don’t know if that’s going to be the route I take or not,” Kaeding said. “I kind of dabbled in some business things while I was playing. I never really had a whole lot of day-to-day interaction with it, just more as an investor.
“But I think the exciting thing for me is that it’s a clean slate. I’ve got a wide array of interest. I know I will also need to build up a new skill set somewhere down the line.”
Kaeding said one of the benefits of living in Iowa City are all the positive influences in his life: Friends such as Bergman and Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and Iowa assistant football coach Reese Morgan, who was Kaeding’s football coach at West.
“The great thing for me being back here is I’ve got an outstanding network of mentors, not only in athletics, but people outside of the athletic field,” Kaeding said. “There are a lot of people here that I’ve been in discussions with and that have helped me outside of the game with the business things.
“They’re great people to pick their brain and learn from and see where the transformation and transition takes me.”
Kaeding was a multi-sport star at West and played on teams that won state titles in football, basketball and soccer during his senior year. He went on to become an all-America kicker at Iowa, winning the Lou Groza Award as a junior in 2002.
He also helped the Hawkeyes rebuild under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Iowa’s victory total during Kaeding’s four seasons in the program improved from three games as a freshman, seven as a sophomore, a school-record 11 as a junior and 10 as a senior.
“My big take away from Iowa was just coming in and being one of the first (recruiting) classes with Coach Ferentz and just kind of being a part of building the whole Iowa program back up,” Kaeding said. “Just kind of steadily taking that (program) on a rise and then leaving it in good shape.”
The San Diego Charges drafted Kaeding in the third round in 2004 and he twice earned all-Pro recognition and played in two Pro Bowls.
He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on the first play of the 2011 season opener and then missed the rest of the season. He was released by the Chargers midway through last season after suffering a groin injury.
Kaeding signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins last December and made one of three field-goal attempts in limited duty. He signed with Tampa Bay on April 2, but now is ready to start a new chapter in his life.
“It’s exciting,” Kaeding said. “I’m 31. I’m not old. I guess I’m not young, either. But it’s kind of fun to be able to take a step back and see what comes.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football