Sports writers Randy Peterson and Tommy Birch look at what’s ahead for Iowa State as they head to Mountaineer country to face West Virginia.
Michael Zamora/The Register
AMES, Ia. — The turning point in the football season for Iowa State linebacker Marcel Spears Jr., came during his team’s 41-14 win at Akron on Sept. 16.
As Spears struggled through the third start of his college career, he noticed he was thinking too much (getting out of position) and trying to do too much (interfering with zones beyond his assignment).
He realized he had to change.
“That was a humbling game,” Spears said. “That’s why I got better. That’s why I had to buckle down and just get comfortable.”
Spears has since become one of the bright spots for the 16th-ranked Cyclones, who will play at West Virginia at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The redshirt sophomore is one of the reasons Iowa State owns a 6-2 record, including a 4-1 mark in Big 12 Conference play that has resulted in a four-way tie for first place.
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He ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 40th nationally in tackles per game at 8.8, and he’s tied for the team lead iwith two forced fumbles.
Spears had barely tapped into his talent during his first two seasons at Iowa State.
He redshirted his freshman year and got the bulk of his playing time last season on special teams. Spears was so far off the radar that he didn’t appear on Iowa State’s depth chart the first two seasons. But after a strong spring and summer, Spears earned a starting spot before the 2017 campaign started.
Getting to the top was the first challenge. Staying there was the next. The biggest thing standing in Spears’ way: consistency. In just his second start, Spears exploded for 17 total tackles and forced a fumble against Iowa.
A week later, he tallied just four at Akron.
“Just trying to be Superman — trying to do everybody’s job and not (just) mine,” Spears said.
Iowa State assistant head coach and linebackers coach Tyson Veidt said Spears’ struggles didn’t stem from a lack of effort. In fact, it was the opposite. He was trying to do too much early on.
“He was pressing,” Veidt said. “He put pressure on himself. There were some things he missed here and there.”
The struggles got to Spears at times, so much so that Iowa State linebacker Joel Lanning noticed. Lanning encouraged Spears to calm down and relax. The advice helped boost Spears’ spirit. After struggling at Akron, Spears tallied 14 tackles against Texas. He hasn’t looked back since.
The redshirt sophomore linebacker from Olathe, Neb., has impressed with his growth over the last year, Campbell says.
Randy Peterson / The Register
“He’s figured it out,” Lanning said. “He’s coming to practice every single day, and he’s probably the hardest worker at practice. He goes hard every single time. He’s just continuing to get better.”
Spears’ hard work has been rewarded. He grabbed a fourth-quarter pick-six at Texas Tech that proved to be the final dagger for the Red Raiders. A week later, he ended then-No. 4 TCU’s final drive with an interception to solidify Iowa State’s 14-7 win.
The success earned Spears Big 12 defensive player of the week honors the past two weeks. Spears credits the Akron game for jump-starting his season.
“I just stopped thinking too much, and I’m just making sure that I know that the other 10 dudes out there with me are going to do their jobs and just make sure I do my job,” Spears said.
“That seems like about 10 years ago,” said Iowa State defensive coordinator and safeties coach Jon Heacock said of the Akron game.
No matter how much Spears struggled, he wasn’t going to let the troubles overwhelm him. One way or another, he said he was bound to figure things out.
“It’s just the way I am; it’s just the way I was brought up,” Spears said. “I don’t care what anybody else says. You can’t tell me I’m not going to do something.”
Source: Des Moines Register
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