AMES — There’s a freshly-minted No.1 MIKE linebacker in Ames and Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham rustled up an Old West reference to explain why Alton Meeks is that guy.
“He’s stayed a step ahead of the posse, so to speak, and done a few more things, been more productive,” Burnham said. “A lot of things were based off production.”
Meeks, a 6-2, 249-pound redshirt freshman, has impressed coaches with his speed, power and eagerness to learn.
Still, the former Florida state champion wrestler’s not ready to ride into the sunset with the top job just yet.
He’s clutching the reins now, but Burnham said he’ll continue to review film over the weekend — and that Meeks’ competitors at MIKE, Kane Seeley and Jordan Harris, remain very much in the mix.
And Meeks remains cool with that.
“Competition is good for the team,” Meeks said recently. “A lot of competition. Every day it’s a battle.”
Meeks is used to scrapping.
So are Seeley, who won two state titles at Perry, and backup WILL linebacker/special teams standout Levi Peters, who starred in baseball and football at Fort Dodge, and also won a state wrestling crown at Twin River Valley of Bode.
But who would win their battles if shoulder pads were exchanged for singlets?
“Levi Peters would probably beat both if us,” Meeks said without hesitation. “He’d probably fly in from the rafters or something.”
Meeks will likely share the field with Seeley and possibly Harris at MIKE, especially against run-heavy teams such as the season-opening opponent, North Dakota State.
“Alton will go from MIKE to SAM in our base and Kane would come on the field right now,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “So both of those guys are going to play. The North Dakota State game, both of those guys might play the bulk of the game when we’re looking at tight end-types of sets.”
Don’t sleep on Harris, either.
“I think this is the kind of game he could helps us most in right now,” Burnham said. “You’ve got two backs back there and people aren’t spread out all over the field, so he can hone in and get a good feel for what’s going on. He plays the run real well anyway. But we expect him to be able to contribute this week.”
Meeks is pleased to contribute any way he can.
He’s learned form some of the Big 12’s best: A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and Jeremiah George.
“I’m just trying to work hard; playing like I am young and trying to learn,” said Meeks, a converted quarterback who likely would have won at least one more Sunshine State wrestling title if it weren’t for an injury. “Trying to soak up everything while Jeremiah was here, trying to learn from him. Whenever Jake and A.J. are in town, I try to learn from them — older guys, hang out with the right guys that are going to make you work harder, too.”
Same goes for Burnham, who’s been teaching the game of football for more than 40 years.
“The best advice that they’ve given me is just take in what coach Burnham says, because he knows what he’s doing,” Meeks said. “He’s done it for along time. Had a lot of success. Just pay attention to everything he says. Grasp on to it and write as much notes as you can.”
NETTEN THE GUY FOR KICKOFFS
Rhoads said Friday that sophomore placekicker Cole Netten will start the season executing both field goals and kickoffs. Last season, Edwin Arceo booted most of ISU’s kickoffs. Netten’s amped up his power, so figures to handle all the kicking duties now — though freshman punter Colin Downing was in the mix early in camp.
“(Downing) kicked early and then I pulled him away from it,” Rhoads said. “We’ve got a freshman that we’re relying on to be our punter. I don’t need him doing both — two completely different swings and so forth. So I took him completely out of that.”
Walk-on Chris Francis is the man to watch when it comes to any kickoff competition that could materialize, Rhoads said.
“There’s a possibility if the next week, as he focuses on that and he booms some kicks and we feel he gives us a great chance for touchbacks in certain situations, or if Cole doesn’t remain consistent once the year starts, yeah, there’s a chance that could be an open deal,” Rhoads said.