Family central to LeCompte getting a leg up at North Dakota State
To say Ben LeCompte started to get cold feet about his college choice could be viewed as a fitting description for someone who committed to kick a football at North Dakota State University.
But the apprehension the 2010 Daily Herald Cook County All-Area punter and kicker from Barrington started to feel weeks before his departure for college had nothing to do with homesickness. It had everything to do with someone who was sick at home.
In June of 2011, LeCompte's father Berry was diagnosed with throat cancer. A month later, the man who did everything he could to support Ben's dream of becoming a successful punter and kicker underwent a major operation.
"I said, 'I'm not going,' " Ben LeCompte said. "I told him I'm going to wait and maybe go to Harper College or another junior college in the area."
Berry LeCompte then gave his son the proverbial boot out of the house and up to Fargo.
"My dad was the biggest proponent that I made a commitment," Ben said. "He told me, 'You have to go and I'll be fine.' "
Everything has gone better than Ben LeCompte could have imagined.
Berry and Ben's mom Cathleen, who is also a breast cancer survivor, will be in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. They will be there watching their son, one of the country's top punters and a legitimate NFL prospect, try to help North Dakota State win a historic fifth straight Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) title when it faces Jacksonville State at 11 a.m.
LeCompte has been part of the previous four titles since he redshirted his first year before taking over the regular punting and kickoff duties in 2012. This year his 45.8-yard average on 60 punts -- with 28 inside the 20-yard line -- earned him second-team Associated Press FCS All-America team and FCS Athletic Directors Association All-America team honors.
When LeCompte chose North Dakota State, the program was just coming off an overtime quarterfinal loss in its first FCS postseason appearance after its transition from Division II status. Now the Bison can become the first four-year college program to win five straight national football titles.
"I envisioned success and that's why I chose the program, but I never envisioned this," said LeCompte, who was not highly coveted coming out of Barrington. "It's been a dream come true. We talk about it being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but we're not happy with just going. We want to win this one as much as we wanted to win the last four."
That LeCompte has been able to play such a significant role in the Bison success is a testament not only to his family at home but the one he became part of in Fargo.
Two years after Berry was diagnosed with cancer, the LeComptes were jolted again when Cathleen learned she had breast cancer. She just underwent her final surgery right before Christmas.
Through it all LeCompte had a lot of support.
"I have 100-plus actual brothers," LeCompte said of his teammates. "People use that term a lot like football is a brotherhood, and some think it's a cliche, but it really isn't.
"When I would come home and I visited my family there was only so much I could do around them. Being around my teammates and coaches and playing football would get my mind off of things. It was probably the greatest outlet I had."
It has been one where LeCompte has steadily improved with punting averages of 43.2 in 2012, 43.7 in 2013 and 45.3 in 2014. This season's average ranks second in FCS to Ryan Hawkins of Northern Arizona (46.3).
LeCompte's work with Bison strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer has made a big difference. He has progressed to 40 touchbacks in 88 kickoffs this year from 12 of 56 in 2012, 16 of 98 in 2013 and 31 of 72 in 2014.
"My leg strength has improved tremendously since I got here," LeCompte said. "When I got here I didn't have nearly half as strong a leg as I have now. I've also improved my hang time on punts because a lot of times they went far but I lost some hang time."
Playing for a team as successful as North Dakota State has made LeCompte maximize the minimal opportunities he gets compared to other punters. He has worked on his ability to pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory and limit his touchbacks.
LeCompte hopes the total package will lead to kicking and punting on Sundays. After the FCS title game, he plans to find an agent and start working on invitations to camps and combines to get a spot in an NFL team's minicamp.
That would be a long way for a kid who was primarily offered walk-on spots out of high school. The most recent of his regular trips to Kohl's Professional Camps for kicking, punting and long snapping made him realize he has a pretty good leg to stand on.
"I saw the talent at every level there and thought, 'Wow, I can compete,'" LeCompte said. "(The NFL) has always been a dream of mine."
One that Ben LeCompte's parents, even in the most challenging times, made sure their son would not stop pursuing.