Zeb Noland makes a throw during Iowa State’s open practice on July 31. (Photo credit: Chad Bassman)
Few battles on Iowa State’s depth chart will be more heated than the one for the backup quarterback job. That race continued when fall camp kicked off on Monday with redshirt freshman Zeb Noland taking snaps alongside incumbent starter Jacob Park.
The other frontrunner for the backup job will showcase his skills for coaches on day one in the afternoon when redshirt senior Kyle Kempt takes the field for the first time in fall camp. He will be joined behind center by true freshman Devon Moore.
“I think it’s wide-open, and I think that’s going to be a really fun battle for us to watch,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “It’s absolutely critical to our success — having that guy that’s No. 2. I think the nice thing is we feel really confident in those two guys and it’s great to see Zeb back out there, full-go today. He even ran a ball, which was really good to see, giving him some confidence. Kyle’s a guy that I thought had a really good spring, start to finish, for us. Then Devon (Moore) coming in. Devon’s a young guy that’s shown really good, all things, intangibles we want — can run, can throw, he’s got elite arm strength.”
Noland enters the fall coming off a strong spring following a knee injury that sidelined him only a few days into fall camp last season. The former three-star recruit has earned rave reviews from coaches for his football acumen and desire to become not only a better quarterback, but a smarter one.
Kempt, who was named Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year last season, is looking to take advantage of his last college chance in order to put himself in position to see the field, even if it is in small amounts, this season. While Moore is still feeling his way into the college game, Noland and Kempt will most likely be the leaders to go under center in the event of Park having to leave the field.
“It’s going to be really fun to watch those three guys kind of maneuver,” Campbell said. “See their growth through fall camp.”
The discussion of who was the strongest pound-for-pound player on Iowa State’s roster last season was not difficult. Senior offensive lineman Brian Bobek was far-and-away the strongest player on the roster, which was not surprising considering the programs he’d started his career in, but pinpointing that strongest player is not quite as easy during this fall camp.
Campbell said after one player was able to bench more than 400 pounds entering camp last season, that number has reached the range of 15 this fall.
“I think there’s a really good debate on that, which is nice to have,” Campbell said. “I think I said a year ago we only had one guy bench press 400 pounds. Now, I think we’re somewhere around 15-16 guys that can do that — guys like Ray Lima and Robby Garcia and Oge (Udeogu). I think that list goes on and on. A lot of credit goes to Coach (Rudy) Wade. A lot of credit goes to the investment of our team. Coach (Aaron) Hillman becoming involved with our nutrition plan — all those things, I think really, our kids did a great job of taking advantage of all that and there’s certainly been great growth in those areas.”
In fact, one of the biggest impressions to take away from Monday’s first practice was the sheer size of Iowa State’s roster. The days of most players on the team being undersized seems to be long gone.
Redshirt freshman Eyioma Uwazurike looks like a Big 12 defensive end before he has even taken a snap. Guys like Lima and Matt Leo look to be ready to make the jump from junior college to big-time Power 5 football after a spring and summer inside the program.
In other words, the workouts Campbell and his staff have implemented are most definitely working.
“You come out this morning and you come out this afternoon and you see those freshmen and those redshirt freshmen and you just see the size on the offensive/defensive line and at the skill positions — at wide receiver, I think it looks like what you hope to look like,” Campbell said. “Tall. Strong. I think our record was 90 percent of our guys PR’d in the bench, the squat and the clean this summer. That’s pretty impressive and a lot of credit goes to Coach Wade and our strength staff, getting bigger and stronger. We had a really good spring in that regard and to be able to put another summer together in that regard of getting bigger, getting stronger, I thought that was really important, especially for the youth of our offensive and defensive line groups.”
Three-star wide receiver Tarique Milton arrived on campus in Ames over the weekend and he’s already making an impression on the coaching staff. It is easy to understand why when you look at his prep stats and see he caught 64 passes for 1,087 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior for Manatee High School.
“I think you’re talking elite skill player,” Campbell said about Milton. “You turn on his high school film and, (A), he’s playing quarterback, he’s playing corner, he’s playing wide receiver. And everything he’s doing — I think 40 touchdowns, and a guy that can kick return, punt return, he can really run, run. And Tarique just got here a couple days ago, so I think we’re all really excited to, (A), have him a part of our program, and (B), watch what he can do.”
It will likely be difficult for Milton to work his way into the wide receiver rotation this season with the wealth of talent Iowa State has returning, but it is definitely encouraging to see the Cyclones continue to add impressive young skill position guys.