Dec 19, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones tight end Charlie Kolar (88) scores a touchdown in the second quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — The term “100 percent” has become the focal point of Iowa State All-American tight end Charlie Kolar’s injury-hampered 2021 season.
It’s often preceded by the words “less than,” but it’s also slowly but surely advancing toward that pivotal three-digit percentage point foundation.
“Once you get to the games it’s all right,” said Kolar, who hopes to help the Cyclones (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) topple Kansas State (3-3, 0-2) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Manhattan. “You just do everything you can to win the game. The tricky part is practice. You have to practice well to play well, so the balance of getting enough reps to getting healthy is sometimes difficult. But I think coach (Taylor Mouser) and (director of strength and conditioning Dave) Andrews and his staff have done a really good job. Just blessed to be surrounded by guys like that.”
Kolar sustained a lower-body injury late in fall camp that forced him to sit out the season-opening win over Northern Iowa, but his early-season production is actually ahead of schedule in terms of touchdown catches (two in his first four games).
He’s also made 17 grabs in that span, which mirrors his total at this point last season, and is only two behind his breakthrough 2019 campaign.
His total yards so far (238) is better than last season (188), and slightly behind his 2019 early-season numbers (249).
So that’s exciting, especially since Kolar aways gets better as the season grinds on.
“The thing for Charlie, and it’s visible to you guys, as the season has progressed, you just see him getting in and out of his cuts better and you see him even more confident,” Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said. “At tight end, if you’re not healthy, it’s a hard position to maneuver. You have to be physical at the point of attack but yet you also have to be able to run and separate out of breaks and routes. We ask Charlie to do so much that you’re starting to see him, over the last two to three weeks of the season, really have that full confidence to be able to do all those things at a really high level. He’s certainly a lot healthier today than he was at the start of the season. Is he 100 percent? He’s closer to that.”
Slowly, steadily and smartly.
And if the past two seasons serve as omens of things to come, Kolar may be poised to put up career-best numbers.
In both 2020 and 2019, the standout from Norman, Okla., caught six of his seven touchdown passes after his first four games.
So the best may be yet to come — as long as that percentage reading continues to inch toward its top number.
“Everyone is banged up in a season,” Kolar said. “I’m just trying to keep getting healthy, getting a little better every week. It was nice to have a bye week to relax a little bit, but I’m getting better.”
SKY’S THE LIMIT FOR K-STATE’S SKYLAR THOMPSON
Wildcats veteran quarterback Skylar Thompson didn’t play last season when ISU trounced injury and illness-plagued K-State 45-0 in Ames, but he has been a key cog for his team in three previous meetings.
He’s 2-1 as a quarterback against the Cyclones and was highly effective in two of those games with both his arm and his feet.
Count Campbell as a fan, too.
“It’s probably not fair to say this as the opposing coach but he is one of my favorite players that we’ve played against in this conference because he is tough,” ISU’s head coach said. “From day one, he started as a freshman. He is a winner. He knows how to compete. He brings it. He’s probably one of the hardest competitors that we’ve gone against since I’ve been at Iowa State. I love guys that love to compete and they want to win and they bring it, and he does.”
ANOTHER SEASON, ANOTHER CRUCIBLE
Campbell was asked if the senior-laded 2021 version of the Cyclones is better suited to rebound from an uneven start to the season than past teams.
The answer? It’s complicated — in large part because last season ISU reeled off wins in six of its final seven games, which, you know, stands up as a solid standard.
“We’ve been in this very similar moment each of the last four or five years,” Campbell said, “It’s no different. And we’ve either succeeded and became the best version of ourselves or we didn’t. There were a lot of lessons to be learned in those experiences and sometimes you have to go through it. On the flip side, our young players are really talented. For me, I’m excited because that group continues to get better and they’re pushing the older players in our program for playing time. When that happens, it creates a higher sense of urgency from everybody involved and we’re fortunate because we’re getting that. It’s created some real positives for us.”
“Just don’t let him touch it. Just don’t give him a chance. That’s literally what my job is. — ISU placekicker Andrew Mevis on the need for nothing but touchbacks against K-State returner Malik Knowles, who leads the nation in average yards per return (39.3) and has two touchdowns.