AMES — Quenton Bundrage’s smile broadened, reaching its peak when he heard the word “touchdown.”
It’s been a long road back for Iowa State’s standout wide receiver, who missed all but four snaps of 2014 because of an ACL tear.
In last Saturday’s loss to Iowa, the senior from Palmetto, Fla., got back in the end zone for the first time in roughly 22 months — and the best part of his comeback may be yet to come.
“It felt great,” said Bundrage, who’s sprang up for six catches for 64 yards through two games this season. “It just took my back to two years ago when I used to score a couple touchdowns for the team. Hopefully I can just keep it rolling and catch more touchdowns next game.”
This season, he’s simply battling bumps and bruises.
Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said “some soft tissue” things may have affected Bundrage’s overall effectiveness against the Hawkeyes, but his work ethic and drive have lit a path through the lengthy rehabilitation process to being at or near full strength as he is now.
“Part of that is how their body responds, part of that is how they attack rehab, part of that is their mindset, their mentality and Q’s has always been fantastic,” Rhoads said of returning from knee injuries in general.
Bundrage’s hopes outlined above are based on fact. Once he made his breakthrough with three touchdown catches against Iowa in 2013, his production fluctuated — but rarely stayed on the low side for long. His final two healthy games that year, Bundrage caught three touchdown passes, including two in the Cyclones’ wild 52-44 overtime comeback at West Virginia.
As for any rust remaining …
“I got over that rust a long time ago,” Bundrage said. “When I first stepped out on the field I was just excited, mainly for the fans and for myself; just being back out there and showing people I’m still the same.”
Bundrage said he expects much of the same from a Toledo defense ISU quarterback Sam Richardson dissected for 351 yards and three touchdowns in last season’s 38-31 win in Ames.
Bundrage had to watch that game on the sidelines as Allen Lazard, D’Vario Montgomery and Dondre Daley had big days.
Now he’s primed for another one for himself and for the team.
“I think the most fun part about playing on the road is just causing fans to be quiet,” Bundrage said. “Of course they’re not going to like you coming into their stadium, their home turf, and you go out there and show them that you’re the better team and then all of a sudden they’re quiet. You kind of laugh it it, you chuckle.”
If anyone deserves a few laughs it’s Bundrage — and Cyclone fans. ISU’s a 7.5-point underdog against the Rockets, but that backdrop could serve as a launching pad.
“We still have the same passing attack,” Bundrage said when asked about last season’s success against Toledo. “We still feel confident in our receivers and we know how their players are and what their tendencies are, so we’re not going to back off anything.”
*** Rhoads said star nose guard Demond Tucker will likely be healthy enough to start Saturday after missing more than a half against Iowa because of a right ankle sprain.
“He’s good,” Rhoads said. “He practiced today. He’s ready to go.”
*** Rhoads said Richardson’s torching of Toledo last season should positively impact his preparation for Saturday, but he added a caveat:
“I don’t think it repeats itself just because,” Rhoads said. “I joke all the time that I don’t have superstitions, I have routines. And if I feel good about a routine, I feel good about what goes along with it. There are certain games all season long that players are going to feel good about. … So, yeah, I think there’s carry-over into that.”