AMES — “If there’s one guy that’s really shown up and, you know we’re talking 10 practices in, has had as good a spring as anybody on our football team it is Willie Harvey.”
That’s what Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell said Tuesday when asked about the Cyclones’ fourth leading tackler last season. The first thing that popped into my mind was that it seemed like high praise.
Harvey had been impressive at times last season as a redshirt freshman but he hadn’t really done anything spectacular while tallying 59 tackles, three of which were for losses.
“I told Willie this yesterday,” Campbell said. “Willie’s end potential is as great as he wants it to be and as good as any linebacker that I’ve been able to coach.”
Wow, okay, so this escalated quickly. I’m not really surprised that Harvey is making this kind of impression on Iowa State’s new coaching staff. He’s as impressive a player physically as Iowa State has.
The 6-foot, 222-pound soon-to-be redshirt sophomore can run, he can hit and he’s shown he has a pretty good nose for the football. It still seems like he flew under the radar last season. I’d completely forgotten about his 10 tackle performance in the loss to Texas Tech.
“He can run and that makes him stand out for sure because he has the ability to do that. He’s 230 pounds too so he’s doing it with a big body,” Iowa State’s new linebackers coach, Tyson Veidt, said. “Got some natural ability as well to find the football so that’s certainly important at linebacker.”
Improving the linebacker position is one of Campbell’s biggest priorities and he’s said so on multiple occasions. The group has some talent but figuring out how to fit it all together is going be the biggest problem.
Harvey stepping up might be able to relieve some of those issues.
“You know, he’s still a young football player. He’s a redshirt freshman going to be a redshirt sophomore,” Campbell said. “But his knack for the game, his ability to be decisive and go attack the football, and really his love for football has shown up on my end of it, and I’m really proud of what he’s done in the 10 practices now. He’s got to have a great finish to spring practice and continue to sharpen his tools going into the summer and, obviously, into the fall.”
Other notes from Tuesday:
*** Campbell was pretty honest when someone asked him why linebacker is such a big concern for him.
“Well, I just think if you look at the games last year and you say, ‘where is an area that, maybe, wasn’t as good as it could’ve been?’ That’d be the area,” Campbell said. “You know, and I think if we’re all real about it and we look at the video tape, that’s a reality of the situation. I think there’s a mix of older guys that play to the level they’re capable of playing and some young guys that have some ability, they’re just young and trying to get better. So we’ve got to continue to coach them. That group has made really significant strides from practice one to practice 10. I think Coach (Tyson) Viedt has done a great job with that group in terms of what’s it like to play linebacker. I don’t care where you’re at, linebacker’s a lot like quarterback. If you’re good up the middle then you’ve got a chance to have a good defense and we’re going to need that to happen for us.”
*** JUCO transfer cornerback D’Andre Payne is another guy that came up multiple times on Tuesday. Payne played his freshman year at Tennessee before transferring to Arizona Western CC last year.
He’s a former four-star recruit and held offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Auburn and a host of others when he came out of high school.
“Well, you know, D’Andre’s kind of been a flex guy for us,” Campbell said. “You know, D’Andre’s got just a natural ability. You know, great cover guy but he’s got great football instincts. He can play some of the outside linebacker, sam linebacker, at times for us in our nickel and dime stuff. He’s a really good blitzer. If Willie Harvey’s had number one for us, D’Andre Payne’s probably had number two in guys that have had just a phenomenal spring. It has been really fun to just watch his ability because he can do a lot of things.”
*** Campbell also had some pretty interesting stuff to say about senior linebacker Jordan Harris. His 70 tackles were third on the team last year and he was one of two defensive players to start all 12 games.
“I think if you look at Jordan’s overall body of work, Jordan’s a little bit inconsistent as a football player,” Campbell said. “You know, that’s hard to be the MIKE linebacker and be inconsistent. But what you saw from positives from Jordan, he’s definitely got that. I think Jordan has through 10 practices gotten better every day. But, that’s the MIKE linebacker. That’s the spot that’s just like the quarterback. If the quarterback’s inconsistent, you’re probably not going to be very good. You know, it’s the same thing from the MIKE linebacker piece of it. I think consistency is the biggest thing for Jordan and just continuing to grow into what he is capable of playing because I think we’ve all (seen) him play at a very high rate at times.”