La’Michael Pettway catches a ball at Iowa State Open Practice on Friday. Photo by Connor Ferguson.
AMES — Who will replace Hakeem Butler’s production on the Iowa State offense in 2019?
Few questions loom larger entering the most highly anticipated Cyclone football season in recent memory. Actually, there isn’t a bigger question -with only the wonderment of who will replace do-everything running back David Montgomery coming close.
Butler, a fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft to the Arizona Cardinals last spring, was Iowa State’s safety blanket. On third and long, there was rarely any question as to who Brock Purdy would look towards.
Sure, the program has Deshaunte Jones and Tarique Milton, who have combined for 1,592 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns during their college careers, returning, but what about the last wide receiver spot? Who will step up and take hold of the position left vacant by Butler’s NFL departure?
Answering this question remains a work in progress through the first several days of the Cyclones’ 2019 fall camp with Sean Shaw, Jalen Martin and Arkansas graduate transfer La’Michael Pettway all vying for the spot as the program’s No. 1 z-receiver.
“I think consistency is the word. Those guys have all had great moments. They’ve all practiced well. They’ve all practiced hard. Consistency is really important,” Iowa State wide receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase said on Tuesday. “I think what you see is those guys are straining to get better every day. They are growing and getting better. When they get their opportunities in the fall, we want to see them be consistent. We want to see them in the place that the quarterback expects them to be, playing with the effort that we expect. Whether they’re getting the ball and the play is called for them or whether they’re away running a seam down the middle of the field just to clear a safety out there, they have to have consistency in those things. I think they have so far. That’s the exciting part. They know that. They know that’s what we’re looking for and I think they’re straining to do that.”
If we want to get technical, those three are really battling to see who will replace Milton at the position, but the sophomore from Florida slid over to the x-receiver position formerly held by Butler during the spring. He was one of the breakout performers of the Cyclones’ 8-5 2018 season, but we all know whose shoes those players are truly trying to fill.
Pettway would seem to be the most likely option with three years of collegiate experience, including a team-high 499 receiving yards last season for the Razorbacks, but the redshirt senior is also sliding into a new role inside a new offense for a new program.
Shaw was one of the standouts of Iowa State’s 2018 recruiting haul, but at 6-foot-6 and just 212-pounds, is he ready to take on a full pass-catching workload in just his second season with the program?
As for Martin, the redshirt junior from Detroit has been close to breaking through into consistent playing time on multiple occasions. His name is no stranger to the Cyclones’ two-deep, but he still largely sat behind standouts like Butler, Matt Eaton, Marchie Murdock and Allen Lazard.
All three players have things to prove during the leadup to Iowa State’s season opener against Northern Iowa on Aug. 31 at Jack Trice Stadium. Whether or not they have the ability to fill some of the space left in Butler’s empty shoes is the biggest proving point on the list.
“The good thing about camp is there’s always going to be adversity. There’s never been a fall camp before where there’s not a bad day for the offense or the defense. I think that’s your best chance of seeing how guys are going to respond in pressure moments,” Scheelhaase said. “When something doesn’t go your way or when there’s an interception that happens on the first play of the drive, how are these guys going to battle back? It’s part of the game. It happens naturally when you get out there. The good news for us is we compete with a good defense every day so there’s going to be situations where, man, you feel like you got stopped on a rep but you’ve got to come back and battle back the next rep. Coach Manning said today, ‘Offensive football is different.’ You can go out there and you’ve got to have poise. You can get stopped for three straight possessions and feel like things aren’t going well then end up scoring on the next seven possessions and feel really good about the day. Those guys having poise and having the maturity, it helps.”