Nov 4, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Hakeem Butler (18) catches a pass during the fourth quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Looks can be deceiving.
That old cliche morphs into an aphorism for Iowa State’s budding star at receiver, Hakeem Butler.
He’s rangy. He’s not bulked up. But the 6-6 redshirt sophomore is much stronger than he appears to be at first glance.
“I’ve always been a pretty strong kid,” said Butler, who emerged as the Cyclones’ top big-play threat by averaging 16.3 yards per catch this season. “I just always looked real small and skinny and frail, but I think coming here and (strength) coach (Rudy) Wade is probably one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. I thank him for everything he’s done. He definitely helped brick-by-birck break this team down and then build us back up. I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Butler’s sophomore season including a team-long 74-yard touchdown catch, six touchdown receptions and improved downfield blocking skills.
His rare combination of length and speed — along with his sure hands — makes it abundantly clear that he has pro potential.
That’s why ISU coach Matt Campbell and his staff filed his information with the NFL, as he they did with junior cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne.
“I think those are guys — good to get some of that information back for those guys,” Campbell said.
ISU’s coach added that filing with the NFL and receiving feedback for star senior Allen Lazard last year helped him become both more productive and pro-ready. He expects the same process to aid development for Butler, Peavy and Payne.
But first things first for Butler.
He wants to close this season on a high note instead of another near miss. The Cyclones (7-5) enter the Dec. 30 Liberty Bowl matchup with No. 19 Memphis (10-2) having lost three of their past four games — and two in controversial fashion.
“I already feel like we left a lot of things on the table, just because of the games that we lost in, they’ve all been so close and a play here and a play there could have changed a lot,” Butler said. “But just going into the offseason with a win, I think that will just propel us to where we want to go. It’s like taking the next step for this program and for this city. It’s just something we really want to do here.”
Butler would obviously enter spring ball as the Cyclones No. 1 target and a 1,000-yard receiving season would seem well within reach.
So he’ll hone his skills and strengthen his body even more throughout the winter, which means plenty of time with Wade — and one of the most dreaded lifts the players perform.
“Seated squat,” Butler said. “You ask anybody about seated squat and you’ll hear the same thing from every player on this team.”
Is it the pain level? The stress placed upon the lower body? The mental anguish stemming from draining every last bit of fuel from one’s tank?
“Every last bit of your energy,” Butler said. “That’s where your will and never quit (kicks in), because if you fail, you’re going to do it again. So you’ll never quit. It comes right there. You finish.”
***Campbell on O-line signees
The Cyclones’ coach was obviously pleased to sign offensive linemen Joey Ramos, Trevor Downing and Zach Ross on Thursday. Downing, a Creston native, will enroll in school this winter. Ross starred at West Des Moines Dowling Catholic. Ramos, who hails from Glendale, Ariz., is the top-rated prospect in ISU’s class of 2018, according to 247Sports.
“I think all three guys fit the mold, really, of what we’ve looked for in offensive linemen,” Campbell said. “Getting two from in-state, which is really exciting from our end of it, really like both those guys. I think both Trevor and Zach have all the ability to be multiple in what they do. I think Zach’s more of a center-guard. I think Trevor could kind of play all five spots for us, and then obviously getting Joey Ramos, I think Joey’s got the skill and talent to play all five spots as well. So those were three guys we targeted really early in the process and three guys at the end we were able to get.”
Campbell said toughness and position flexibility are key attributes he seeks in general, but especially among offensive linemen.
“I think all three of those guys embody those things,” he said.
***A sixth season for Kyle Kempt? The NCAA will decide … sometime
Campbell said “we’ve done everything on our end” to make a case with the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility for quarterback Kyle Kempt. Now it’s wait-and-see mode — but he hopes to discover the outcome before the bowl game.
“I think a little bit of it was the coaching changes that happened for him at Oregon State and the coaching changes that happened at the junior college that he did attend,” Campbell said of the case that was made for Kempt. “Again, certainly a precedent for that a little bit. I think Tanner Lee at Nebraska had a very similar-type situation, so I think that’s kind of the foundation that we’ve put towards that. Now whatever happens happens and we’ll live with it.”