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Football

“True playmaker” Xavier Hutchinson one of many ISU receivers shining in practice

Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell (pictured) said Friday highly-regarded recruit Xavier Hutchinson “has been really impressive.” Photo credit: Sep 28, 2019; Waco, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell during the game between the Bears and the Cyclones at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s a true playmaker.”

 That’s how Iowa State senior safety Lawrence White describes highly-touted JUCO transfer receiver Xavier Hutchinson, who is poised to make his Cyclones debut in the Sept. 12 season opener against Louisiana.

 White — an emerging leader for ISU both on and off the field — elaborated a little. 

 “He’s made some plays in practice that I know will transition to Saturday,” White said during a Friday Zoom interview with the media. “He makes plays, he’s a great teammate, he’s a leader. I’m definitely excited to see him.”

So what really makes a “true playmaker?”

 Even Hutchinson, a 6-3, 207-pound junior, declined to provide specific details, which is fine. Maybe good, even. As a fresh face in a receivers room brimming with talent — from veterans to true freshmen — best to limit any potential scouting reports to the most basic of information.

 “I think Lawrence hit it right on the pin,” said Hutchinson, a former two-sport standout at Bartram Trail High School in Jacksonville, Fla. “That’s just something that I just have to show when game time comes around.”

 It’s coming — in a mere 15 days.

 And clues to Hutchinson’s ability to stretch the field can be gleaned from his record at Blinn (Texas) College.

 He averaged 20.4 yards per catch as a freshman with the Buccaneers and turned two of his 15 receptions into touchdowns.

 His usage and production increased dramatically last season, as Hutchinson caught 47 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns.

 “A true playmaker” indeed. But more than that.

 “I think what I love about Xavier is I don’t know if there’s anybody that holds themselves to a higher standard than (he does),” Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said. “It’s one of the things that I was really impressed (by) from the very beginning of our relationship and getting to know Xavier — what he was about what he stood for, and how he carried himself in terms of his work ethic. And I’ll be honest from the day he’s been in this program, through the eight weeks we got him in our winter program and then, obviously, coming back off of extended break, he has not disappointed one day in our locker room. And that doesn’t mean just in terms of how he’s done in terms of football, but it’s how he approaches his business in his daily process. 

 “So he’s been really impressive,” Campbell continued. “I think the thing for me that I love about Xavier is he wants to be great and he works like he wants to be great. And those two things sometimes don’t always go hand in hand, but for Xavier it does and I think it will give him the opportunity to become the best version of himself somewhere in our football program and that’s going to be really fun to watch.”

 Hutchinson chose ISU over offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska and others. Friday, he was asked if it was hard to turn the Sooners down given the program’s track record of producing high-end NFL Draft picks.

 His response?

 “It wasn’t tough at all, actually,” Hutchinson said. “When you have a program like Iowa State and you have the coaches and just really the help that they all give you (and) the family-like experience that you get here, it’s really easy to say, ‘No,’ to some of those schools like that. I really just commend Iowa State for everything they did for me.”

 Now Hutchinson finds himself in a three-deep battle for playing time in the upcoming, slightly abbreviated season.

 Top returners include Tarique Milton, who ranked second in the team in catches with 35 and totaled 722 receiving yards while scoring three touchdowns. Sean Shaw Jr. (five touchdowns), Joseph Scates, Darren Wilson and Landen Akers also showed flashes in the passing game and on special teams, but among that group, only Shaw topped 10 catches on the season (he had 15).

 All of which means it could be hard to separate many of the ones and two (and even threes) from one another. That’s a good thing, too, because it points to the quality of complementary depth the Cyclones have developed at receiver and across most, if not all, position groups.

 “With time and really settling in over the years of who we want to be and what we’re trying to become in terms of schematics, I think that complementary depth has certainly occurred,” Campbell said. “Years one, two and three, you’re just trying to identify good football players and young players that have qualities that you think will allow you to consistently be successful. Now, as we enter years four, five, six and seven, you’re looking for, ‘How do you continue to complement and put together a true program? How does it look on offense? How does it look on defense? How do you make sure you complement? What do certain positions need to look like and what skill sets do they need to carry for us to be successful? I think that is one huge positive for us, is systematically knowing what we want to be in and knowing what we want to become, and then recruiting to that and then developing to that. Those things are really powerful. That’s one of the great joys of becoming a little more veteran in our football team. We have the ability to complement each other across the board.”

 So there are a lot of “true playmakers” — and that gives everyone an opportunity to sharpen their strengths and chip away at their weaknesses.

 “We’re always there for each other,” Hutchinson said. “It really becomes almost like a band of brothers — and a lot of people say that but it’s really hard to emulate when it comes down to actually doing it and I think as a receiver group we did that really well in the past few months that we’ve been together.”