AMES — It’s understandably hard to find a coach who doesn’t like the new NCAA rule that allows players to compete in up to four games without burning a redshirt.
Iowa State defensive line coach Eli Rasheed heartily concurs with the overwhelming majority — in part because of the massive upside true freshman defensive end Will McDonald possesses.
“Will McDonald’s a natural pass rusher,” Rasheed said. “And with this new rule, I want to see what he looks like in four games, too. We’ve got guys that will play a lot of reps but there are some guys who will come in on some third down situations.”
McDonald’s name has been on a lot of lips since he arrived on campus. He took advantage of the early signing period and committed in December over offers from Minnesota and Baylor. He stands 6-4 and is a lean, but mean 214 pounds and was considered one of the five best players out of Wisconsin.
The multi-talented McDonald’s pegged as a much higher prospect by ISU’s staff, according to his Waukesha North coach, Matt Harris.
“They think he is a NFL prospect. They really do,” Harris told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in December. “They think he is one of the top D-linemen in the country.”
And to think McDonald’s only being playing football for a few seasons. He had been devoted to basketball, but is “all in” as a D-end now. It will be intriguing to see what, if any impact he can have this season and/or beyond.
Rasheed and everyone else in and around the program is convinced it will be a major one — possibly even this season, thanks to the almost universally-praised rule change.
“That’s a really good rule,” Rasheed said. “You get a great opportunity. You get a great opportunity to get in there and play those guys without just spending 15 reps, or five reps all year, the whole deal. It’s an excellent rule.”
And McDonald’s not the only true freshman Rasheed would like to get some in-game reps, if current progress translates into near-future gains.
“Isaiah Lee’s been interesting,” Rasheed said of the 6-0, 284-pound Chicagoan. “Right now he’s been showing the capability to be really physical at a very young age. That’s intriguing to us. He could be another guy down the line, I would say later in the season, that you’d like to see play early just to get some of that game experience. If it doesn’t work, well (then) he’s had some experience. He’s going to be a special talent. Really strong, physical body type.”
Intriguing indeed. Thanks to the rule change, coaches enjoy the flexibility to essentially audition some of their top prospects — to see how the perform when the “lights are on” — without incurring sometimes less than clear redshirt-related risks.
And there’s at least one more true freshman on the D-line to consider as a possibility here, too.
“Zach Petersen’s doing a nice job,” Rasheed said. “He’s a 235-pound guy as a young kid. I can see him going in and getting his feet wet in there also.”
To sum up: ISU boasts the best depth on the D-line in recent memory going into this season — and the next wave of talent makes the future (and maybe a sliver of the present) look extremely bright.
“Our freshman crew is a talented group,” Rasheed said. “Really talented and they’re doing a nice job.”
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Even though he’s been in the program for a while, I’ve been told that former Ankeny Centennial standout Collin Olson one to watch as he switches from the D-line to the O-line. Toughness and hunger have already powered the 6-1, 279-pound junior onto the three-deep at guard.
SPEAKING OF (FORMER) WALK-ONS …
Spencer Benton’s no longer a member of WOPA. Well, maybe he’s still an honorary member, but the junior defensive end from Van Meter was placed on scholarship last month for good reason. He’s provided critical depth the past two seasons, playing in all 25 games and recording two sacks.
“Coach (Rasheed) and I have always been really tight and he’s always been in my corner,” Benton said of graduating from walk-on status. “But it’s just one of those things, be patient, your time will come and just keep working hard every day.”
Rasheed smiled when asked about Benton’s recent addition to the list of scholarship players.
“It’s crazy that kid wasn’t on scholarship,” Rasheed said. “I saw the talent the whole time. The scholarship had to come available. It did. But even this spring and this summer, there (were) plays every day you just say, ‘Wow.’ The extra effort, it’s off the charts.”