Nov 3, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Allen Lazard (5) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Oklahoma Sooners at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Allen Lazard. Trever Ryen.
Iowa State’s top two receivers shine the light on what the program may become in the not-too-distant future.
On one corner: Lazard, the four-star phenom from Urbandale who’s more than lived up to expectations since former coach Paul Rhoads trumpeted his commitment.
On the other corner: Ryen, the former Northern Iowa-turned-Iowa State track performer who walked on to the football team when Lazard was a rightfully highly-touted freshman.
Both are juniors now — and lead the Cyclones in receptions this season with 48 and 28, respectively, entering Saturday’s 11 a.m. (FSN) game at Kansas.
Recruiting services’ “stars” separate Lazard and Ryen, but a commitment to excellence unites the high-performing duo, which ultimately makes them both prime targets as ISU (1-8, 0-6) seeks to separate itself from the Jayhawks (1-8, 0-6) in Lawrence.
“I love this game,” Lazard said. “I’m going to go out there and fight as hard as I can for my teammates.”
Between them? Seventy-six catches for 961 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
Their roads to ISU? Couldn’t be more different.
Lazard’s a legacy Cyclone. His father, Kevin, was a captain during the 1993 season. His brother, Anthony, was already a walk-on linebacker when Allen arrived on campus.
“If you really came to practice and watched the last three weeks of practice, Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, Allen’s as locked in as anybody on our football team,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said. “That’s what I want for Allen. That’s what I want for him because in my humble opinion Allen has a chance to be one of the best players in college football. My job is to work to get him there and I think Allen wants that and I appreciate that from him.”
Still, both Lazard and Ryen embody the work ethic ISU coaches past (Rhoads) and present (Campbell) demand from a team due to rise again after what soon will become a fourth-straight losing season.
The running game may be the first option at Kansas, given the Jayhawks rank ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense, but well-timed passes to Lazard and Ryen could soften up the front seven and lead to big plays.
Last season, Lazard caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in a 38-13 win over Kansas. He’s on pace to set school records, though you’ll never hear him talking about them.
The co-captain rolls his eyes when he’s questioned about turning pro. He’s capable, but that’s not his primary focal point — not yet.
“He wants to play at the next level, so obviously he’s got to come here and work hard, because you’re not just going to show up and make it to the next level,” sometimes starting quarterback and co-captain Joel Lanning said. “I know how hard he works. He wants to do it, so he’s going to do it.”
Ryen caught one ball in last season’s win over KU, but is averaging a program-best 16.3 yards per punt return over the past two seasons. He took one punt to the house last season against his former school, UNI, and would rank fourth nationally this season (17.4 yards per punt return) if his ankle injury hadn’t sidelined him briefly and decreased his sample size.
“I just wanted to get on special teams,” said Ryen, who recently was named a semifinalist for the Bulsworth Award, which is given annually to the top player in college football who began his career as a walk-on. “That was my biggest goal.”
Now Ryen’s a headliner — alongside Lazard and up-and-comers such as Deshaunte Jones, Carson Epps and Hakeem Butler.
Run, run, run may be the mantra this weekend, but the four-star and the walk-on may make the pivotal plays that push ISU into the win column for the first time this season in Big 12 play — and create momentum for 2017.
For both, it’s a dream come true. For Ryen, it’s especially sweet, given his non-scholarship background.
Former special teams coach Shane Burnham gave him a chance. He shined in auditions and is now one of his team’s top threats in both the passing and return games.
“‘Just go see what you can do,’ Ryen recalled Burnham as saying. “So I took it and did something with it.”