Happier times: Depth in backfield gives Cyclones reason for hope
By Steve Batterson | Sunday, August 05, 2007
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AMES, Iowa — J.J. Bass insists he cannot walk on water.
Running for first downs and breaking free for touchdowns, however, might be a more reasonable request of the recent and much-heralded addition to Iowa State’s crowded field of running backs.
“Everywhere I look, there’s competition, but that’s a good thing,” Bass said Saturday when the Cyclones hosted their annual media day.
“I want guys pushing me and I want to push other guys. That’s good for all of us.”
First-year Iowa State coach Gene Chizik is counting on that.
Juniors Jason Scales and Jason Harris fill the top two spots on the depth chart at running back for ISU, but Bass took the practice field for the first time last Wednesday with an eye on the top spot.
Bass was ranked as the second-best junior college running back in the nation last fall. He rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 20 passes including two for scores while helping El Camino win the California state junior college championship.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound back from Altamonte Springs, Fla., brings glossy credentials to an Iowa State program looking to jumpstart a rushing attack that ranked 99th among the nation’s 117 Division I-A programs last fall, averaging 101.8 yards a game on the ground.
“I think J.J. Bass is a good football player, but I can’t tell you how good he’ll be for us this fall,” Chizik said. “Like a lot of our new guys, he’s just learning our offense, and he’s trying to figure out how he can contribute to our football team.”
He’s not alone.
Iowa State returns 10 position players — four starters on offense and six on defense — from a 4-8 team.
The combination of a sluggish offense and porous defense led to dismissal of Dan McCarney as the Cyclones’ coach last November.
Bass already had Iowa State on his radar before ISU director of athletics Jamie Pollard made Chizik, who shared defensive coordinator duties at Texas defensive, his choice to rejuvenate the Cyclones program.
“I already was liking what I was hearing from Iowa State before the coaching change,” Bass said. “I liked the school. I liked the idea of playing in the Big 12. I liked the playing time that they said was out there.”
After McCarney left, Bass considered his options and he took a long look at Oregon State before reaffirming his original thoughts to sign with the Cyclones.
“When I first heard from coach Chizik, we had good conversations and it only made me feel certain that Iowa State was the right place,” Bass said. “After talking with him, there was no doubt in my mind.”
Bass aims to work his way into the starting lineup.
Handed a new playbook and part of a new team that is adjusting to new philosophies and new schemes, Bass said he has plenty of work to do as the Cyclones work toward their Aug. 30 opener against Kent State.
“There’s no time to waste so let’s just get at it,” he said. “That’s the approach I have to take.”
Chizik sees a lot of that as he surveys his team.
“We have a lot of new juco guys here this year and it’s a challenge for them because their clock is running,” he said. “They have to hit the ground running and a lot of them are spending a lot of late nights trying to learn the system and the terminology and get up to speed.”
Count Bass among those players.
“I don’t have a lot of time to rest,” he said. “I feel blessed to be here and the hunger I have right now is to get on the field as fast as I can to help our team. That’s why I’m working my tail off every day in practice.”
He’s not alone.
Scales, a West Des Moines Valley grad, rushed for 176 yards on 56 carries last season for the Cyclones after sitting out 2005 with an injury.
Like Bass, Harris is from Florida. Recruited as a tailback, he spent last season as a cornerback before returning to offense during practices last spring.
“Scales and Harris are coming along well and they’ve retained what they learned last spring, which is encouraging,” Chizik said. “The thing I like most about both of them — and about Bass as well — is that they want to be the starting tailback at Iowa State.”
Scales considers the competition to be healthy.
“Ideally, that’s what you want,” Scales said. “In the end, the coaches will decide who plays and who starts, but you want somebody out there making you better every day and we have that type of competition here.”
That pleases Chizik, who considers a strong rushing attack to be the foundation of his offense.
“We will run the football, period,” Chizik said. “That is where it will start for us and everybody on our team understands that. Who will be carrying it? We don’t know that yet, but we will run the football.”