Nov 24, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones tight end Sam Seonbuchner (47) scores a touchdown against Kansas State Wildcats at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Wildcats 42 to 38. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — His eyes lit up as the end zone was breached.
Iowa State tight end Sam Seonbuchner scored the first touchdown of his career during a Senior Day comeback for the ages in last week’s 42-38 win over Kansas State — but it wasn’t his first six-point journey that meant the most to him.
It was what became the game-sealing 18-yard touchdown surge by David Montgomery, who he helped spring with a well-executed block.
“It’s felt better when I’ve led blocked on a couple of Dave’s touchdowns than when I was in the end zone,” Seonbuchner confirmed this week in advance of Saturday’s 11 a.m. regular season finale against FCS foe Drake. “It just says a lot about this team because that’s how everyone is. Everyone wants everyone else to be successful and when a team’s like that, you’re gonna see success.”
It says a lot about Seonbuchner, too. He was a holdover from the Rhoads regime, struggling to find a way to contribute.
The same conundrum emerged when ISU coach Matt Campbell and his staff took over three years ago, but a fuzzy picture for Seonbuchner came into focus eventually.
“I think it’s been kind of well-publicized that he wasn’t a guy when we first got here that we thought would ever be able to help us,” Cyclones tight end coach Alex Golesh said.
So, in that first spring, they tried Seonbuchner at linebacker.
“We didn’t think he could play linebacker in our scheme,” Golesh said.
Later, they shifted him to the D-line …
“He wasn’t great there,” Golesh added. “He was just too light. So we leave spring ball that first spring and coach (Campbell) was like, ‘We really don’t have this F,’ — we’d always had an ‘F.’”
Thus a behind-the-scenes star was born. Seonbuchner moved into that fullback/hybrid spot and never looked back. It just took a while after finding a home in fall camp to translate that skill and knowledge to the field.
“Every day, Coach Campbell was like, ‘Man, this Seonbuchner guy has got something to him,” Golesh recalled. “‘He’s just kind of crazy and just kind of willing to pour up in there.’ And we were searching that whole year for a guy — and, really, we moved him the middle of camp, didn’t know the plays, and at times, you get going into the season, the young guys don’t get forgotten, the young guys just kind of — we have developmental practices with them and you coach them but you really don’t know.”
Seonbuchner fully emerged in ISU’s rout of Texas Tech that season. Coaches made a concrete decision to “invest in him” that week and the dividends immediately began pouring in.
“He went out and was lights out,” Golesh said. “Literally, the ultimate take advantage of your opportunity moment and he did and then ever since then, our kids have believed in him. Dave (Montgomery) has believed in him. What he’s done — you talk about the run game and the catching — the pass protection has been unbelievable. It’s allowed us to get the running back out more. He’s a really, really good football player and a really talented football player on top of being tough and gritty and smart — and that’s one thing you’d never guess talking to him, just because he’s not a flashy guy. Highly intelligent. Loves football. He’s the epitome of, if you could design a Cyclone football player, that’s what he is, from the inside out.”
He’s got company. ISU’s tight ends room has grown into a wide-ranging strength for a team (7-4) aiming for at least eight non-conference wins in a season for the first time since 2000.
Seonbuchner’s part of a group of selfless and cerebral dudes who dabble in Chinese history (Charlie Kolar), are engineering majors (Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner) and are deployed as the Swiss Army knife of the Cyclones’ offense (him).
“We came into camp on a mission,” Seonbuchner said. “Coach Golesh, credit goes to him, he’s gotten us prepared. … We’re just really a close-close-knit group and every day in meetings we’re always having a good time. It’s always great to be with those guys.”
As for production — that’s finally come at the tight end position in year three of the Campbell era. Kolar’s caught three touchdown passes. Seonbuchner got his first score last week. Allen, who’s been regaining health after early-season injuries, made a key third down catch against the Wildcats.
The group’s totaled 25 catches this season — up from five a year ago. It’s the most output from the tight end spot since E.J. Bibbs starred in the offense in 2014.
“I can’t say enough about that tight end room — all four of those guys,” Campbell said. “You could make an argument that Dylan Soehner is our best special teams player. He’s starting on all four units and he’s been incredible and continues to do some really positive things at tight end. Obviously with Charlie and break-out year that he’s had, I thought he was phenomenal again on Saturday — he made some huge plays. Chase started off the season maybe as good as any tight end I’ve seen play in those first two games and then gets dinged up and fights his way back and has some huge plays in the game last Saturday, too.
“Then obviously what Sam has done. Sam has been such a key figure to our offense, really since we’ve gotten here. To be able to cap it off like he did Saturday with what I would say was his best performance — not just the touchdown catch but his blocking and physicality of being the lead blocker in the running game. I think all four of those guys have done a great job in development and growth. We’ve come a long way from no scholarship tight ends to into our third year and that group not only playing but playing at a really high rate. A lot of credit to Coach Golesh and a lot of credit to those guys and the ownership that they’ve taken building that room.”
There’s more to build, with Allen, Kolar and Soehner slated to be back in 2019. There’s obviously more to achieve in 2018, as well, whether by catching passes, or lighting up defenders so other Cyclones such as Montgomery can thrive.
That’s what Seonbuchner — now on the strong last legs of his five-year ISU career — cares about the most, because of what it means for in-game and ongoing progress.
“It’s been crazy to see, because coming from high school, I didn’t lose many football games, and then it was eight wins in three years,” Seonbuchner said. “It was hard. It was one of the hardest things to go through. And just now, going towards the end of my college career to see all this growth and success, it just makes it all the better.”
All because he kept working and Campbell and company continued to seek ways for him to contribute. Now Seonbuchner’s the “epitome” of a Cyclone football player — and Golesh certainly noticed how much he relished leading the way for Montgomery’s score last week, as well.
“To be honest with you, and I told Coach this, I guess one of the coolest coaching moments I’ve ever had was Saturday night — and we’ve repped that play-action pass on the goal line for a handful of weeks now off of that heavy formation with Kamilo (Tongamoa) in there, and he got a chance to catch the touchdown, which was awesome,” Golesh said. “He was excited. He was fired up. Everybody was proud of him. It was the next series when he led blocked for Dave’s touchdown up the right side that he was way more juiced about than the touchdown. “That’s why I say, probably the coolest coaching moment I’ve had is — you talk about a guy, how bought in somebody is into the program and into us, offensively, into his teammates, that lead blocking for Dave on a touchdown was way cooler for him than scoring a touchdown. We talk about roles and embracing them and buying into the process. Every single checklist item of Matt Campbell’s ‘How do you build a program?’ that kid has fit.”