Nov 16, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones tight end Charlie Kolar (88) celebrates after the touchdown against the Texas Longhorns at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Longhorns 23 to 21. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Three leading tight ends. Three potential future pros. And the best may be yet to come.
That’s how Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell assessed his most skilled position group led by Chase Allen, Charlie Kolar and Dylan Soehner.
But the Cyclones’ mentor — in comments gleaned from my one-on-one interview with him earlier this month — is just as bullish about the up-and-coming talent backing the “Big Three” up.
“I think the thing that I’m excited about is the two guys that nobody talks about (are converted quarterback) Easton Dean, who I’ll be really honest with you, maybe is as talented as any of those guys in that room, and then Skylar Loving-Black,” Campbell said. “I think it’s a room that’s healthy, but those top three guys, I think those guys all have opportunities to really benefit themselves.”
In short: ISU’s tight ends room — from to fifth-year seniors to a pair of redshirt freshmen — has become elite, and the stats, both athletically and academically, bear that out.
Kolar, who stands 6-6, led all Big 12 tight ends last season in catches per game (3.9), touchdowns (7) and receiving yards per game (53.6). The junior also became the first Cyclone to attain both All-American and Academic All-American honors.
Allen, who stands 6-7 and has battled injuries throughout his career, tied for third among Big 12 tight ends with two touchdown catches last season and continued to shine as a downfield and edge blocker.
And Soehner — who also stands 6-7 and has been beset by injuries even more often than Allen — served as the do-everything tight end. He recorded his first career touchdown catch in the one-point loss at Oklahoma and played an integral role in run blocking, pass protection and on special teams.
“It’s funny,” Campbell said. “The guy who doesn’t get talked about the most is maybe the guy that certainly deserves as much credit to when we played really good football on offense — was probably a pillar of that — and that’s Dylan Soehner. Because he does all the things that are really hard. He does the things that are really tough. Chase has maybe been the most consistent and Charlies’s been the guy that’s certainly been the most targeted and the most explosive. So I think those three guys, what’s great about all three of those guys is those three guys love football.”
They do. They also love the classroom. All three own multiple First-Team Academic All-Big 12 honors and their love of learning shows when they pick apart film in position meetings.
All of that translates to picking apart defenses on the field, where ISU’s “Big Three” combined for 75 catches and 10 touchdowns — far and away the best in the conference in terms of tight end production.
That’s a vast improvement from Campbell’s first season, where the tight ends netted seven total catches and only played a modest role in the running game.
Year five looks to bring more advancement, with the “Big Three” leading the way, but the next two primed to begin making significant contributions, as well.
And this season, they’ll enjoy even more hands-on time with offensive coordinator Tom Manning, who will also replace Alex Golesh as tight ends coach.
“Those three guys have continued to excel and honestly I think the thing that’s exciting is Coach Manning coming back a year ago and being able to help those guys be put in positions to where their talent was able to be showcased, and now really getting where coach Manning naturally should be in terms of developing and growing those guys,” Campbell said. “I think it’s a huge advantage for our football program because those guys all have another step that they need to make and I think they’ve got somebody that can take them from good to really great in terms of their development and that’s exciting.”