AMES — Iowa State linebacker Luke Knott is facing a health-related crossroads.
The 6-1, 221-pound junior came back from left hip surgery performed after his redshirt freshman season to record 74 tackles — third-best on the team in 2014.
But he also underwent a procedure to clean up scarring this offseason and his immediate and possibly long-term playing status has been thrust into the realm of uncertainty.
“We’re going to find out more today; got a couple surgeons on the phone talking things through,” Cyclone Coach Paul Rhoads said. “I guess it’s fair to say he’s had a setback as far as it goes. Intelligent minds will give he and the family all the information and then we’ll start making decisions from there.”
Knott was listed atop the spring depth chart at WILL linebacker. He played in all 12 games, starting eight, last season. He’s obviously a key player on ISU’s defense, thanks to his combination of intelligence and athleticism. He’s got a nose for the football — and the books, too. Knott’s a two-time academic all-Big 12 first team selection.
“I think everything’s on the table right now,” Rhoads said of Knott’s health status. “Could start in 2015, could never play football again. I think it’s all on the table. but until those great surgeons give them everything they need and we know what’s ahead of us, I can’t give you (more information).”
ISU athletics director Jamie Pollard made a surprise visit to practice on Tuesday. He was a welcomed sight — for coaches and players alike. Pollard underwent triple-bypass open heart surgery on March 10.
“When I looked over, I was shocked to see him because I didn’t have any idea he was coming out,” Rhoads said. “He didn’t actually know we were practicing, so he was just coming over to say, ‘Hello.’ But for him to be around the kids I think is important. You’re No. 1 leader showing strength like that, showing the importance of the work that they’re doing and what it means to them is very important to them. The kids appreciated that and wanted to let him know and be around him a little bit so it was fun to see.”
Rhoads pointed out Pollard’s presence to his players.
“Coach had us take a little time out to see him,” linebacker Levi Peters said. “I think that was really cool. I think he appreciated that. Singing the fight song to him was really fun.”
LEVI’S NEW LOOK
The eccentric, but no-nonsense Peters spoke to the media wearing a bucket cap, which he than removed to reveal his new haircut. Hint: Buzzzzz. Change is good, no?
“It was probably as long as it’s been since high school when I cut it,” said Peters, who has been “limited” this spring while rehabbing a surgically-repaired ruptured Achilles tendon.
One thing won’t ever change for the thick-bearded Peters: His motor. OK, two things. Add his full-throttle mentality to the mix.
“I just try to be one of the toughest guys out there,” Peters said. “I’m a little smaller linebacker, so I try to make up for that with toughness and my speed — try to fit my gaps. (I’ll) take a 320-pound lineman on if I need to and try to beat him, try to win those battles.”
Ever take on a bear, he was asked?
“It would be fun, wouldn’t it?” Peters said nonchalantly.
Yes it would, Levi. Yes it would. Bear-wrestling jokes aside, Peters’ rise from walk-on to potential down-to-down contributor has been impressive, especially considering his injury history. Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Wally Burnham said recently that Peters would be his starting WILL linebacker today is he were fully healthy.
“He’s Levi,” Rhoads said when asked how being “limited” in spring ball has affected him. “I’ll bet he got his fingers hit a lot with a ruler when he was younger. He goes full speed, blue jersey or not. He hasn’t missed a day. The only time that we’ve taken him off the field is when we’ve tackled and as we’ve talked about, that hasn’t ben very much.”
You’ll see a lot of faces on the field at Saturday’s spring game you’re unfamiliar with — many of them members of the Cyclones’ “Walk On Players Association.”
One reason: Injuries and departures at running back, which have created a seam for walk-on Mitch Harger. Another reason: It’s the spring game and hunger even for special teams snaps runs deep.
“Mitch is a fantastic worker,” Rhoads said. “He’s probably going to get himself on the field at some point as a special teams player. Going to carry a lot of balls, probably, Saturday in the spring game. A kid named (Jake) Rhoads took 53 snaps on Saturday in the scrimmage. He’s picked up, But guys like that have to take reps. We couldn’t practice and we couldn’t get better as a football team without the Trevor Ryans, the Mitch Hargers, the Brian Bonaccis, the Jake Rhoadses. We couldn’t be improving without them giving us everything they have right now.”
Harger drew praise last Saturday from offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, too.
The former Alburnett star takes nothing for granted. He grinds and grinds. It’s the “WOPA” Way.
“Special teams has always been one of my favorite things to do, just being a part of ‘JUICE’ family,” Harger said. “Coach (Shane) Burnham is a phenomenal guy and just being a part of punt return and kickoff last year was an amazing experience. I hope that I can get out there and make some more plays again for him.”