Oct 3, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson (8) runs up field for a touchdown and putting the Cyclones in the lead 22-20 during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State would go on to defeat Oklahoma 37-30. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
When it comes to asking questions about the Iowa State football program these days, a deep dive is usually required.
The questions are harder to come up with because the question marks are harder to find. That piece of punctuation used to be the driving theme of Iowa State spring football, but now it is the most difficult thing to pinpoint.
That’s going to be the case when you return the majority of your starting lineups on each side of the football from a squad that won the school’s first New Year’s Six bowl game just a few months ago.
There is no question who will be the Cyclones’ top wide receiver threat when Northern Iowa arrives for the season opener in September. That distinction belongs squarely in the hands of Xavier Hutchinson, who earned first-team All-Big 12 and league Newcomer of the Year honors for his breakout 2020 campaign.
“The work that he did on the field and the work that he did behind the scenes that allowed him to reach that it was really exciting,” Iowa State run game coordinator/wide receivers/ running backs coach Nate Scheelhaase said Tuesday. “Obviously, having a group around him that continued to contribute in different ways and what we try to do on offense is make things really difficult on defenses by sending in different personnel and putting in different guys and putting them in different positions and trying to create matchups.”
It isn’t hard to figure out who the next options will be either when you consider Sean Shaw and Tarique Milton will both be suiting up for Matt Campbell’s team again. So will Joe Scates, the tantalizing talent that has shown flashes of potential during his first two collegiate seasons.
Nope, with each passing position group during the spring, the questions get harder and harder to find so you have to dig deeper and deeper to keep these Zoom calls with the Cyclone coaching staff from becoming glaringly awkward.
So, we talk about depth — and for the first time in modern Iowa State history there seems to be plenty of it discuss at every position, including the wide receiver position that still features so many guys we already know all about, but plenty more we’ve seen only sparingly.
“The exciting part is that we do get a lot of those (2020 contributors) back,” Scheelhaase said. “We’ve seen those guys come back with a hunger and a passion to grow, and to be more productive and to be not only a year older when they’re out there on the field this next year, but to be a whole lot better players. Those guys have worked hard this offseason and we continue to see those guys grow and develop… There are a few of those guys, we’ve been out on the field with them for a week now, and seeing that work that they’ve put in the weight room really come into life out on the field has been encouraging.”
*** When asked about young guys in the program that have stuck out during the winter and the first week of spring ball, Scheelhaase pointed to redshirt sophomore Ezeriah Anderson, the aforementioned Scates and 2021 recruiting class early enrollee Jaylin Noel.
“(Jaylin) is really passionate about finding ways to get better. He was that way in his recruitment. When you sat and talked to him and the questions that he asked, you felt like he was mature beyond his years. And so even as he’s come into the fold and been down in the weight room and out on the field, he’s kind of got that look in his eye that he’s here to do something.”
*** Once Milton was injured early in the season and lost for several weeks, true freshman Daniel Jackson stepped into his shoes and looked like a potential breakout rookie. But, that was all curtailed when he suffered a season-ending injury of his own that cut his freshman season short.
He’s back in the fold this spring and making an impression on the field.
“I think with (Jackson), you’ve got a big physical guy that really can play on the outside, can play on the inside,” Scheelhaase said. “He has the ability to move around and that’s what we’ve been doing even in this offseason is moving around and seeing where he fits best in our offense. But, really like the growth that Daniel has had.”
*** Breece Hall posted one of the best seasons ever by an Iowa State running back last season on his way to finishing sixth in Heisman Trophy voting and becoming the first unanimous All-American in Cyclone history. It is hard to ask this question considering how awesome the junior tailback from Wichita was last season, but could he be even better in 2021?
“The exciting part is we still feel like there’s a lot of room for Breece to improve, and he feels the same way,” Scheelhaase said. “I think he’s really excited about really understanding the whole offense, really understanding what we’re trying to do week in and week out, understanding how we’re trying to attack teams. I think that’s a great area for him to grow. He’s been pressing himself in the film room, obviously studying just our stuff, our playbook, what goes on, and obviously even opposing defenses and how they tried to attack him last year. So, I think from that knowledge standpoint, again, there’s a lot of room to grow. And, again, the best part about Breece is that he’s hungry for that growth.”