Nov 17, 2018; Austin, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Tarique Milton (14) returns the Texas Longhorns kick during the first quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — He possesses speed, skill and football savvy.
What he lacks is size — but ISU budding star Tarique Milton is flexing out wide anyway, thank you very much.
The swift but somewhat slight 5-10, 176-pound junior receiver from Bradenton, Fla., played out of the slot last season for the Cyclones, but is being tested on the outside at the ‘X’ position this spring because of his elite athleticism and assiduous attention to detail.
“I would describe myself as player who’s trying to prove himself,” said Milton, who gathered in 14 catches spanning 15 yards or more — with a long of 60 — his redshirt freshman season. “To show coach (Matt) Campbell I can fill in the role Hakeem (Butler) had. Really just to prove myself on the field and show I can be a big playmaker guy, too.”
Butler was big. Really big — on the stat sheet and according to the eye test. The 6-6 WR1 is justifiably a darling of most NFL Draft gurus and certain to be one of the first receivers selected later this month.
He reset single-season benchmarks for receiving yards (1,318) and yards per catch (22.0) while hauling in a head-turning nine touchdown grabs as a junior.
No one can replace that production — and mismatch potential — but Milton is among a talented, if less proven (and not as large) cadre of receivers poised to chip in.
“There’s probably not one person that looks and plays exactly like Hakeem Butler, so there will be differences in our offense, differences in what we do,” ISU receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase said. “He’s a tough guy to replace. That’s why he’s got the ability to be drafted high, because he’s an incredible player, but with that being said, there’s a lot of guys who do a lot of different things who bring a lot of different things to the table.”
Milton split time in the slot last season with senior Deshaunte Jones, who’s been tabbed as a leader by the coaching staff. Milton tallied one touchdown last season. Jones totaled four — and remains a big-play threat for the Cyclones.
“When the ball gets in his hands, he’s dangerous,” Scheelhaase said.
So options abound at receiver for ISU, which also features Josh Johnson, Jalen Martin and Sean Shaw and Joe Scates, among others.
“The great thing about college football is year in and year out there’s always gonna be guys that need to step up and this is the time you kind of get to see that come to life,” Scheelhaase said.
Jones said having the chance to share the field more with Milton is an exciting proposition.
“(I’m) helping him get better and he’s helping me get better at the same time,” he said.
Roles change. Spots shift. The Cyclones adapt — and plan to thrive as new opportunities emerge because of Butler’s absence.
“He used his size a lot, which I lack, but watching him and the way he got open and the way he ran his routes, I can use that and use my ability, my speed and my quickness, to get in and out of my routes,” Milton said.
Scheelhaase said Milton is as smart a player as he’s been around at any position. He’s become an A-plus student of the game, which goes a long way against taller corners and safeties.
“He comes off the field and you feel like he’s a guy you can communicate with as a coach and he’s gonna give you a picture of what’s really going on,” Scheelhaase said. “Him and Deshaunte, again, Deshaunte’s played a lot of ball so you expect that, but even Tarique last year, he was a guy that would communicate with you, ‘Man, the corner’s playing like this on me.’ Or, ‘This is what I’m seeing as far as the coverage,’ and you’d go back and watch the film and he’s spot on. … He gets football.”
And he’s likely to get a lot more football’s thrown his way this season, too, thanks in no small part to his zest for fully understanding the game and all it entails.
“I feel like that’s what really puts icing on the cake of my game, because growing up, I didn’t really know defenses,” Milton said. “I just played with my skill set, so now that I can read defenses and I can play with what coach Manning calls ‘accelerated vision,’ that’s how I play now. I just put that inside my game.”