Aside from kick returns, Iowa State’s special teams ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 and the team will need bigger contributions from the players in the third facet of the game.
Kene Nwangwu was the No. 2 kick returner in the Big 12 last season, according to the conference’s coaches, but the team will need better contributions at kicker, punter and punt returner.
As a kick returner, Nwangwu will be reprising his role as the starter at the position as a redshirt junior, like in 2018 and 2016. Early in 2017, Nwangwu suffered a season-ending injury, and earned a medical redshirt.
Nwangwu was named to the Big 12 Second Team when he had 24 attempts for an average of 26.8 yards a return and a long of 58. The Big 12 average for all kick returners last season was 20.2 yards.
As the primary returner, Nwangwu provides excellent speed and is a proven player at the position.
Senior Connor Assalley was the third-worst kicker in the Big 12 last season, and only converted 69.6% of his place kicks, while the team with the best percentage in the conference — Oklahoma — converted 89.5% of their kicks.
After making his first eight kicks during the season, Assalley’s percentage began to dip, but he has the ability to make difficult kicks. During the Alamo Bowl, Assalley set a career long when he made a 50-yard kick against Washington State.
Aside from being the starting X receiver, Tarique Milton will get more touches as the top punt returner for the team.
The redshirt sophomore returned 12 punts last season with a long of 47 yards and an average of 12.7 yards a return. The conference average was 10.4 yards a return.
With senior Corey Dunn out last season with an achilles injury, Joe Rivera — a redshirt junior — will be Iowa State’s punter next season along with his usual holder duties.
Rivera played in 13 games last season and was the holder for both place kicks and PATs. He also appeared in the Cyclones’ game against Drake. During the game, he had two punts with a long of 46 yards and an average of 38 yards.
Dunn averaged 40.2 yards a punt last season, and overall Iowa State was third to last in average punt distance.
Senior Steve Wirtel took over all long snaps for punting, place kicks and PATs after starting his career as only the long snapper for punts. He had one assisted tackle last season.
Senior Deshaunte Jones will be the primary backup punt returner behind Milton, but the senior hasn’t returned a punt since his freshman year in 2016. In his first year, Jones returned two punts for a combined one yard.
Last season, Jones didn’t contribute to special teams as a returner, but in 2017, he returned two kicks on kickoff for an average of 18 yards. His longest return was 23 yards.
Redshirt sophomore Johnnie Lang contributed as a kick returner last season and will be the No. 2 returner behind Nwangwu. He had four returns last season for an average of 12.5 yards and a long return of 20 yards.
After redshirting as a freshman last season, Brayden Narveson will be the backup kicker behind Assalley.
Narveson was a three-star recruit and the 12th-best kicker in the nation, according to 247Sports.
He was named to Arizona’s All-State First Team and made 10-15 field goals with a long of 58 yards.
Source: Iowa State Daily