Dec 30, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) carries the ball against Memphis Tigers linebacker Shareef White (30) during the second half in the 2017 Liberty Bowl at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.Iowa State Cyclones defeated the Memphis Tigers 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
David Montgomery knows he cannot bank on retaining his starting spot in Iowa State’s backfield, not with the talent that sits behind him on the depth chart.
Realistically, we all know Montgomery’s spot at the top of the Cyclones’ running back totem pole is not in jeopardy, but that does not stop one of the best running backs in the country from attacking each day head-on.
“First and foremost, it’s in God’s hands, never mine,” Montgomery said. “Whoever does the best, gets that opportunity.”
Not only was Montgomery the best in Iowa State’s room last year, he may have been the best running back in the entire Big 12. But, the consensus first-team all-conference player and first-team Pro Football Focus All-American has a little more competition in Ames this year — and he sees that as a good thing.
Kene Nwangwu is back on the field after recovering from an Achilles injury suffered last winter. Widely regarded as the fastest guy on the team, Nwangwu brings a much different skill set to the field than what made Montgomery so dangerous in 2017.
Redshirt freshman Johnnie Lang is no longer hampered by a shoulder injury that forced him into sitting out the majority of his freshman year. Now, the trio — along with junior Sheldon Croney and senior Mike Warren — hope to combine for one of the most talented backfields in Iowa State history.
“We all have different abilities,” Montgomery said. “Kene’s our speed guy. When he gets the ball and touches the curve, you’re not catching him. Johnnie’s shifty, very shifty. He can make you miss in a phone booth. Mike’s more strong, firm, can handle a whole lot of pressure from bigger guys. Sheldon, he’s a patient guy, can make people miss. I just do I guess what I do. I don’t know what I do, I just play.”
When Montgomery says he is just out there playing, it is not as big of an exaggeration as it seems on the surface. Obviously, the Cincinnati, Ohio native is doing more than just going out there and running, but he is still a guy who has only been playing running back for two years after spending his high school career under center as a quarterback.
Once Montgomery has figured out all the nuances of being a running back… Well… That has to be a scary thought for Big 12 defenses.
“There’s definitely a lot I can improve on,” Montgomery said. “Me making the transition from quarterback to running back, I’ve got to block. I’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback. I’ve got to be able to follow the right keys and the right reads. So there’s definitely room for improvement. The x’s and o’s are what I really need to improve on. Making myself better at being able to recognize things a lot faster.”
Having a guy like Montgomery can make things much easier for a position coach in his first year at a school. Throw players like Nwangwu, Lang, Warren, and Croney into the mix and the Cyclones’ new running backs coach Nate Scheelhaase’s job gets even more interesting.
Not only is he tasked with helping all of these guys improve their craft. He is the same person who will have to figure out the best way each of them can be utilized on Saturdays this fall.
“I think in the running back room we feel like there’s a lot of guys who have a lot of talent,” Scheelhaase said. “I think that’s what we’re all excited about is to get multiple guys out there at a time. Two or three of those guys out there that can all do different things.”