Football

NOTEBOOK: A healthy Darren Wilson makes an already deep WR room even deeper (and faster)

Nov 9, 2019; Norman, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Darren Wilson (17) knocks the helmet of Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (2) off during the second quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State wide receiver Darren Wilson never really found his footing last season.

Why?

Largely because the long and athletic senior from Alpharetta, Ga., couldn’t stay healthy — and eventually underwent surgery on an injured ankle.

 “It was rough,” said the 6-3, 210-pound Wilson, who caught one touchdown pass while playing in parts of eight games last season. “Yeah. I had a few injuries. One in camp and one the week before the (Kansas) game. Just bouncing back from that, yeah, it’s been rough.”

 A healthier Wilson would add another big-play threat to the Cyclones’ receiving corps. When he committed to ISU, Coach Matt Campbell said he might be the fastest receiver on the roster. That’s saying something — and Wilson’s reemergence could be a boon for an already solid receiving corps led by Xavier Hutchinson, but flanked by several other top talents such as junior Joe Scates and senior Tarique Milton.

 So there’s depth and speed to burn from the slot to the outside.

 “We’ve got a lot of guys with talent,” Wilson said. “It’s coming down to who makes plays and we’re all putting in work. We’re all doing what we’re trying to do to be great and in turn it’s only making this team better.”

 Hutchinson had two 100-yard games last season and totaled four touchdown catches. He’s a big-play threat anytime he touches the ball — whether on short passes or down the field. 

 “Once the ball gets in his hands, he ends up getting a lot more yards than what you expect,” said ISU running game coordinator and receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase. “That’s what he knows he’s gonna bring to the table. I think the consistency with all the other stuff really showed up as the year went on last year, but again, he’s determined that every week he wants to go out there and be the best version of himself, and if he does that week in and week out, whether that ends up being 1,000 yards or not, I think it’ll be a really successful season for him.

Scates (6-2, 200) made just six catches last season, but averaged 22.3 yards per reception — and scored two highlight reel-worthy touchdowns. Scheelhaase said the junior is also vastly underrated as a blocker, a skill that serves as the perfect bookend to his goal line-to-goal line speed.

 “He presents problems for defensive backs because of how fast he can run and how big he is,” Scheelhaase said.

 Sprinkle in Sean Shaw (21 catches, one TD), highly-touted freshman Jaylin Noel, redshirt freshman Daniel Jackson (five catches in four games last season), and several others and the wide receivers room clearly is brimming with competition.

 Noel turned the coaches’ heads in the spring and adds another layer of high-end athleticism to the position group.

 “I go back with Jaylin a long way, him being from Kansas City,” Scheelhaase said. “I can remember like it was yesterday seeing him in an open gym at his high school his freshman year and Jaylin was really small then and skinny, and not as tall as he is now, and I saw him jump off of two feet and dunk a basketball with relative ease. … He’s a tremendous athlete. Again, it allows him on the field, because of who he is from the mental side, it allows him to be a really good player at a young age.”

 Wilson plans to do the same for the same reasons — but as an older player. He’s one of just three seniors likely to see many snaps at receiver this season and plans to make the most of each one, whether in practice or on game day.

 “Darren is a competitive, competitive person,” Scheelhaase said. “Darren’s competitive enough in his own mind that he wants to get it right every single time. So he’s mad at himself for making a mistake and that’s the type of people you’d like to surround yourself with as a coach. So I like where Darren’s at. He is really fast and he is really physical. He’s one of those guys that, man, I’ll tell you what, him on the perimeter blocking guys, he’s a force to be reckoned with out there.”

GOOD ON GOOD IS (VERY, VERY) GOOD

All the time.

That’s how often Iowa State’s 1s go against the 1s in practice. All-day, every day. 

The focus is on quality of reps. The less wear and tear during the week the better. Makes sense, right?

 “Last fall we went to that model and we were practicing good on good,” said Cyclones defensive line coach Eli Rasheed.

 So far … so great.

 “The offensive line has made us better,” Rasheed said. “They’re a physical group. To me, as a defensive line, I want to see physicality, I want to see guys coming off the ball, and that’s what our offensive line provides for us every snap. If you don’t have the proper footwork or leverage to play against that group, they’re gonna embarrass you on the field. That is a physical group. They’re making us better.”

FIVE DEEP

 Scheelhaase said there are five tailbacks coaches “would feel really confident right now” in running the football.

 Obviously, numero uno is All-American Breece Hall. Jirehl Brock is likely No. 2. Others in the mix include senior special teams standout Rory Walling and multi-talented true freshmen Deon Silas and Eli Sanders.

 “Now, when it comes to all the other stuff — pass pro, all the motions and shifts that we do, that’s where we know that, man, the freshmen are gonna have a lot of work to do to get there,” Scheelhaase said. “Now it’s been interesting. For a freshman walking in right now, we have so much experience and I think we’re able to go so fast as an offense, and we already have so much that’s installed already. We said at the start of camp install’s kind of over. We met in the spring and we got a lot of stuff in that we’re kind of hitting the ground running’s for those freshmen it’s been a lot to take in, but I think they’ve handled themselves really well. You feel like, man, by three weeks from right now, they’re gonna be in a really good spot going into the season.”