AMES — Allen Lazard takes a dim view of down time.
So much so that as an ISU freshman last season, the highly-touted wide receiver found sitting and watching the specialists work to be too passive an experience.
So Lazard trotted out and joined them — specifically, the punt returners.
“There’d be scout returners and I’d just go back there because I’d just be sitting on the sideline,” said Lazard, who totaled 45 catches for 593 yards last season, both second-best all-time among freshmen in school history. “So I’d be bored.”
Boredom swiftly morphed into enjoyment. Now Lazard’s primed to truly add return man to his long list of skills, as long as he can hold off speedy walk-on Trever Ryen and fellow wide-out D’Vario Montgomery.
“(He) has impressed us as a punt returner,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said of Lazard. “Trever Ryen has impressed as as both. D’Vario Montgomery’s back there on both units. Tyler Brown’s back there as a kick returner. Have not settled yet — we’re actually going to do kickoff return again tomorrow. And by the end of the week, when we start practice Monday of game week, we’ll know who the top two are there and who’s the one guy in punt return.”
Lazard began doing actual work in the return game in the spring. Call that dabbling, though. Once fall camp hit, he began to chase the job in earnest.
“I just think that it’s a little bit more challenging,” Lazard said. “It’s a lot more funner — more fun I should say.”
“I’m in college, I should know that,” Lazard added with a smile. “But it’s just something a little bit different. I did it in high school, but obviously Division I punting’s a lot different, you’ve got guys flying at you, there’s schemes every week and stuff. So it’s a bit of a challenge, which I’m up to. Hopefully I can make a few plays, but as long as I catch the ball I’ll be happy."
Lazard said he’d even be OK with Ryen beating him out for the spot as long as it translated to big gains. Punt return offered a bright spot in 2014 during an otherwise bleak 2-10 season. The Jarvis West-led group averaged 11.14 yards per return, good for 19th nationally.
“I’d be just as happy if he was back there if I wasn’t,” he said. “There’s a little competition because everyone wants to get that punt return touchdown, but I’d be just as happy if I was on the field blocking for him.”
Ryen concurred with Lazard, in reverse.
“It won’t affect me or the other guys, whoever they put back there,” Ryen said. “If we win and they don’t put me back there, it’s fine. I don’t care as long as we win."
EPPS’S STOCK UP
Remember when Rhoads made it clear that running back Joshua Thomas would likely be the only true freshman to see game time this season? That was before he saw 6-1,195-pound freshman receiver Carson Epps perform during fall camp.
“Carson Epps has impressed us and right now we’ll go into the first game with a plan of Carson Epps playing as well,” Rhoads said. “Joshua Thomas, Carson Epps, all the junior college kids that are new to the program — Mike Johnson is somebody that we’re still looking at, both as a special teams player and an every down safety. Want to be smart there before we throw him out there for one special teams rep, but Joshua Thomas and Carson Epps are probably both a go right now.”
Lazard heaped some high praise on Epps, as well, calling him a “do-it-all guy.”
“To be honest, I think he’s light years ahead of where I was last year,” Lazard said. “He’s very, very smart football-wise. You can tell that he’s really bought into the program. He cares a lot about the team. He works hard, just as hard as everyone else on the team. I think he could do a lot of special things this year. He can help us a lot. He still has a lot to learn, which isn’t too much, but just kind of get used to playing football at this level. I’ve been really impressed with him.”
So has Rhoads, who used Lazard as a point of comparison.
“He’s physically strong, like Allen was,” Rhoads said. “Great mental aptitude. He has that mental maturity that you’d better have if you’re going to play as a true freshman.”