Sep 22, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Akron Zips offensive lineman Trevor Brown (59) beats Iowa State Cyclones defensive end JaQuan Bailey (3) to the fumble recovery at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Zips 26 to 13. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Less than four years after being tasked with leading one of Iowa State football’s most undermanned position rooms, Eli Rasheed enters the 2019 season in an envious spot. The Cyclones return four players with a combined 67 starts along its defensive line, making it one of the most experienced position groups on the roster.
The unfortunate part of that fact is three of those four players are seniors, meaning the “Chain Gang” will be back in a position of inexperience entering the 2020 campaign, albeit with some considerably more talented players waiting in the wings than when Rasheed and the staff arrived in 2015.
Regardless, the impending departures of JaQuan Bailey, Ray Lima and Matt Leo make this upcoming recruiting cycle the most important for the position since the staff’s first season in Ames.
“It’s where recruiting comes in. This is a big class for us in the 2020 class,” Rasheed said after the team’s spring practice on Tuesday. “We’re hoping to hit on some guys local and around the area so if we can hit on the guys that we think we can get in recruiting, obviously, it helps. It’s by far the most critical class.”
Despite losing three of the team’s top-four along the defensive front after the 2019 schedule, there will be some talented returners headlined by Enyi Uwazurike, who enters the 2019 season with eight starts under his belt. Plus, the group will be aided by the development of youngsters such as redshirt sophomore Tucker Robertson, redshirt freshman Isaiah Lee, sophomore Zach Peterson and early-enrollee true freshman Blake Peterson.
All of those players will be asked to fill bigger roles than they did in 2018 in preparation of being “the guys” in the not so distant future. The group will also add true freshman Corey Suttle into the fold once he enrolls this summer.
“It’s like recruiting the first class, who is now seniors, we have to get bigger, faster, stronger coming in. We’re close to getting in that,” Rasheed said. “We’ve got Corey Suttle who is going to come in this summer. He’s another big, physical freshman.”
The staff’s top targets along the defensive front will be led by Kuemper Catholic defensive end Blaise Gunnerson, the brother of current Cyclone walk-on Gage Gunnerson. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound three-star has garnered interest from major programs across the midwest and has already taken a handful of visits to Ames over the last year.
Being able to finish the job on prospects such as Gunnerson will be crucial in assuring there will be no drop off for inarguably the most improved position group since Matt Campbell and his staff arrived in Ames.
“The recruiting of this class,” Rasheed said. “Is by far the most critical class.”