Iowa State’s four true freshmen who have already enrolled at Iowa State have impressed Matt Campbell.
Tommy Birch, firstname.lastname@example.org
AMES, Ia. — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell has spent part of his offseason not just preparing for the future but looking back on the past. Reflection, Campbell said, is a big key to the Cyclones’ success next season.
And there’s been a lot to digest.
“Really doing a deep dive into our football program and how do we take the next step here at Iowa State and continue to push the needle forward,” Campbell said. “I think it’s been a lot of time of reflection for me of what are those areas that we’ve got to continue to fill the gap and make sure that we’re aligned once our kids come back.”
Campbell, who is entering his fourth season with the Cyclones, sat down for a one-on-one interview with the Des Moines Register Tuesday. During the 30-minute interview, Campbell spoke about a long-range of topics including his shake-ups with the staff, how he’ll replace David Montgomery and more.
Topic 1: The staff shake-ups
It’s been a busy offseason for Campbell, who’s made a variety of changes to his staff. He brought back Tom Manning to work as his offensive coordinator. Manning will also coach the running backs. Wide receivers coach Bryan Gasser’s contract was also not renewed. He was replaced by Nate Scheelhaase, who coached the running backs last season. Quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon was promoted to passing game coordinator. Special teams coordinator Joe Houston was moved to an off-the-field position. Matt Caponi was hired to work with the secondary. Campbell said himself and a lot of his staff will handle coaching special teams.
Campbell: “I think the biggest thing is just alignment. I think, ultimately, my job is to give our kids the best resources and the best alignment for us to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. I don’t think it has a negative to do on anybody that was here or wasn’t here, rather than aligning the program to become the best it possibly can be. The Tom (Manning) thing actually didn’t really occur until later on in this entire process of taking a deep dive into our program. I thought that was certainly a positive, because he’s somebody that certainly I trust and I think is really aligned with that offensive staff and how we want to do things and how we continue to do things in our program.”
Topic 2: The true freshmen
Four true freshmen graduated from high school early and have already enrolled at Iowa State to join the team. Quarterback Easton Dean, running back Breece Hall, offensive lineman Jarrod Hufford and defensive end Blake Peterson have wasted no time making an impact on Campbell.
Campbell: “I think, No. 1, they’ve got great maturity — the fact that they’ve decided to graduate early and the fact that those guys are here and really succeeding. I think that’s the one thing about the four freshmen that have come in — they are all guys that were really ready to handle this jump from high school to college at such an early level. Breece Hall has been in. I think he’s really adapted well. This opportunity, especially for him, especially to grow, it’s been fun to watch his growth. Blake Peterson’s certainly done the same thing. Jarrod Hufford comes from a really good high school program and was really ready to attack the weight room. He’s done a great job. And then Easton Dean at the quarterback spot. All four of those guys have come in and I think they’ve meshed really well, certainly with our upperclassmen. To have the opportunity to get a leg up to be in here, through winter workouts and going into spring practice, I think it’s huge for all four of them.”
Topic 3: Hall battling for starting spot
Hall’s early arrival gives him a chance to compete for one of Iowa State’s starting spots. The Cyclones are looking for a new starting running back after David Montgomery departed for the NFL. And Iowa State has plenty of options. Sheldon Croney Jr., Johnnie Lang and Kene Nwangwu, who all filled in for Montgomery at times last season are back. Then there’s the two freshmen in Hall and another incoming freshmen in Jirehl Brock, who could battle for the spot as well. So, where does Hall fit into things? Campbell said it’s too early to say.
Campbell: “I’m really excited that Shelon Croney’s back. Kene Nwangwu, for the first time through a whole season, has a chance to be healthy. I think even last year, he was limited through spring practice, limited through fall camp and just getting back into where we felt like he was at 100 percent through the season last year. A healthy Kene Nwangwu is really big for this program and, really, Johnnie Lang and his ability to make growth. And then you talk about Breece and we’re really fortunate that we’ve got some other young men that are coming into this program that will be here in the summer to join our team. I think it’s really hard to tell, especially when a young guy is just getting into a college football program. But we are excited and grateful to have Breece. I think he’s certainly got a lot of talent from his high school video.”
Topic 4: Replacing Hakeem Butler
One of the other big battles taking place is to fill the void of wide receiver Hakeem Butler. Butler led the team in receptions (60), receiving yards (1,318) and touchdown receptions (nine). Butler decided to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. And like, the running back room, Campbell feels like he has a wealth of options to replace the superstar.
Campbell: “That’s a big competition now of who becomes ‘the guy.’ Yes, there’s some really talented guys on that roster and in that room. I think that development of that group is going to be absolutely critical. I said this last year: If the O-line could develop the way we needed it to develop, then we would have the ability to have success last year and I think we did over the course of the season. Now I think that onus kind of lies in that receiver room. Now their development and growth is really critical. We’re fortunate to have a guy like Deshaunte Jones that’s back. He’s made critical plays in big moments for us and had success. Tarique Milton started to showcase his ability last year, I think in some powerful times. He made big plays in big critical situations. It’s consistency for Tarique. How great does he want to be? He’s a guy that’s got elite potential in our football program. Landen Akers obviously made some big plays and got really good experience a year ago. And then you peel back and there’s guys like Josh Johnson and Joe Scates and Sean Shaw and there’s some guys that are really intriguing right now that it’s going to be really fun to watch that group grow and develop. I think it’s maybe one of the most talented rooms in our program. But the development of that room is absolutely critical to our success.”
Topic 5: The other battles
Wide receiver and running back are the biggest battles taking place. But there are other spots across the roster that Iowa State has questions at. Linebacker Willie Harvey graduated. So did cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne. Backup defensive end Spencer Benton is also gone, meaning there are plenty of other spots to be won.
Campbell: “You’ve got Trevor Downing and Joey Ramos at offensive line right now. You’ve got five guys that played and you’re like, man, what’s that group going to look like down the road? You look at Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner and how well he played and obviously with Charlie (Kolar), who’s playing there the bulk of the snaps, and how do we look? What does it look like? Then you turn it over to defense — you’ve got Matt Leo coming back and Matt Leo taking advantage of his opportunities when Enyi (Uwazurike) was out. Those guys are battling for playing time. And Ray (Lima) is back. And then you talk about the growth of Jamahl Johnson and Isiah Lee who’s a talented young football player. Josh Bailey who’s coming off and injury and has made some really good strides. The other defensive end spot, like who’s taking over for Spencer Benton, a guy that did a really great job behind JaQuan (Baley). You’ve got Zach Petersen who did a great job. Blake Peterson who’s in here now competing. So, I think you really look at our roster, linebacker, who’s going to be replace Willie Harvey? There’s a lot of names out there and a lot of things that we can do with that spot. Like, what’s that look like with (Jake) Hummel and (O’Rien) Vance?”
Topic 6: Re-al Mitchell’s future
Mitchell, a true freshman quarterback in 2018, played just one game. He made his only appearance at wide receiver during Iowa State’s loss to Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. But where does the speedy Mitchell fit into things as a quarterback with Brock Purdy taking over the starting spot last season? Campbell said he still sees Mitchell as a quarterback.
Campbell: “Re-al goes in right now as the starting two competing to be the guy. We need Re-al Mitchell to be the best version of himself he can be because I think he can really help us. At least if it ended today, he’s a play away from being the guy at quarterback. So, I think he’s at a critical place in his development at the quarterback position from even where he was to even where he can go. Obviously his God-given athleticism allows him to do multiple things, and we put him in the bowl game to get him some reps. We wanted to probably do more (than) what we did last year but I think at the end of it, you look at our roster right now and his ability to play the quarterback position is really important to us.”
Topic 7: The uniforms
Ever since Campbell arrived in Ames, he’s listened to fan feedback about changing things up. The biggest change he’s made: Adding to Iowa State’s uniform collection. The Cyclones’ wardrobe expanded by three last season and Campbell said Iowa State fans will likely see some new looks in 2019 as well.
Campbell: “We’ll do some new stuff. But what and how? I don’t know. I think last year, obviously there was a lot done. And we were grateful that Nike did that. Whatever tweaks we’ll have, we’ll have. But, I don’t know if it’ll be as major as last year was. The ability to let our kids enjoy that aspect of it and take their input and kind of build off it, we’ll certainly continue do that.”
Source: Des Moines Register