Analyzing Iowa State’s iffy quarterback situation heading into camp

Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Hunter Dekkers (12) nthrows the ball against Kansas State during the fourth quarter at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Ames, Iowa.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Matt Campbell had only been at the podium for a few minutes on Thursday at the Big 12’s media day event at Jerry World.

Moments after opening things up for questions, Iowa State’s head football coach was asked for an update on the ongoing investigation into sports gambling activity within the program and Iowa State’s athletic department.

“I was wondering if you could give us any update on the gambling investigation and specifically the status of quarterback Hunter Dekkers,” the reporter said.

For months, rumors have swirled and this moment indicated just how widespread those rumors had become. Folks across the country are well aware of the big question mark next to Iowa State’s quarterback position.

Campbell provided a brief update on the investigation but didn’t single anyone out as being involved. It was to be expected from a head coach who is calculated and smart with the media.

Still, the question hung there for public consumption for the first time. It is a question that nobody truly knows the answer to, and Campbell likely falls into that category, as well.

“Yeah, you know, right now for us, that investigation is ongoing. Just continues to not really have a lot of clarity to it, but I think we’re getting closer to getting clarity,” Campbell said. “The appreciation that I have is they’ve kind of given me the opportunity to be removed from that process and just give me the results once the results come our way.”

Right now, Iowa State is in a holding pattern, awaiting information to send along to the NCAA in order to bring this matter to a resolution. 

Nobody has been confirmed to be or not to be involved in this entire situation, either, and that should not be forgotten. A few young people, a number Campbell described as “minimalistic” made a mistake, and they’re going to serve the punishment for that mistake once the time comes, but we likely won’t know who those individuals are until that time arrives.

You can safely assume the four players Iowa State took to media days, linebacker Gerry Vaughn, cornerback T.J. Tampa, safety Beau Freyler and wide receiver Jaylin Noel, are safe based on their participation in the event.

We all know the rumors, though, and the idea that the quiet part would stay quiet went out the window on this morning in Dallas.

“I think what I would just say for any of our young men that either are or aren’t involved in this is it’s a great learning lesson,” Campbell continued. “Part of what I love about teaching is you’re teaching 18 to 22-year-old young men. There’s rules and regulations. We’ll kind of learn what happened in that situation here shortly, but it’s a great teaching moment, and how to handle things when it doesn’t go well, and how do you respond from that.”

The rumors of uncertainty in Iowa State’s quarterback room are part of what makes it difficult to project this team roughly two months before it will open its season against Northern Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium.

Dekkers still has to be the presumed “guy” in Ames until we hear something different. He was the guy this spring, and until something officially says different publicly, he has to be the odds-on favorite to be “the guy” again this fall.

In the case Dekkers isn’t available, Campbell still likes where his quarterback room is right now.

Rocco Becht returns for his redshirt freshman season with a year of experience within the program under his belt. Four-star recruit JJ Kohl and his potential-filled arm have been on campus since the start of winter conditioning and went through spring ball.

The program added Butte College transfer Tanner Hughes to the mix as a late junior college addition to bolster the room’s depth. He’s the wild card in this equation with significant college playing experience and a big-time pedigree to his name.

Options still exist for Iowa State, which might not have been the case a season ago.

“Honestly, we’re probably as excited about the depth and just the growth of that room [as anything],” Campbell said. “Obviously, a year ago, you had Hunter and we just had no other experience. You had true freshmen across the board. To have Rocco, who got experience a year ago, to get JJ in for spring practice, obviously, Hunter and then you certainly bring in a guy [in Hughes] that has game experience collegiately and can do a multitude of different things from an athletic standpoint. Really just excited about the amount of competition that’s in that room from top to bottom going into the season.”

Becht came on strong toward the end of last season while battling with former walk-on Ashton Cook for the backup position. Cook has since suffered what Campbell called a career-ending injury, leaving Becht as the only other quarterback on Iowa State’s roster with an entire season in a Power 5 program under his belt.

The former four-star recruit appeared in three games for Iowa State last season, including taking 29 snaps in the season finale against TCU, completing 7-of-13 passes for 65 yards.

“I think Rocco really came on,” Campbell said. “Those two were really kind of a kind of weekly basis of who was the guy and that’s a lot of credit to Rocco because I think he really started to do a great job, honestly… We had those Wednesday scrimmages and, man, that guy really started to come on.”

Hughes’ addition was a curious one late in the process, but he filled a need Campbell and his staff saw on the roster. In two seasons at Butte, he played in 18 games, throwing for 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions while completing better than 62 percent of his passes.

He has a dual-threat ability that Campbell covets, and all that experience. 

“We kind of looked at, man, what do we need? What would you love to have? To me, it is getting somebody that’s dual-threat a little bit and also somebody that’s played a lot of football,” Campbell said. “I think the thing that we took our time to try to find the right guy. I think when you look at his history, same high school as Aaron Rodgers, same junior college as Aaron Rodgers. There’s great lineage. His father and uncle both played in the Big Ten at quarterback. You’re talking about a guy that has grown up, had great success, won a state championship in high school, led Butte to some really great years at the junior college level. Kind of fit all the tools of a winner, a guy that’s got athleticism, a guy that’s got experience to kind of compete and really sure up in terms of the competition and the depth of our quarterback room.”

It might have been easy for Campbell and his staff to look for an experienced quarterback in the portal. That’s not Campbell’s style, though. Sure, the Cyclones have been active in the transfer portal, but selectively and at certain positions.

“Not really. I don’t know if I’m a big believer in that way to build a team,” Campbell said when asked if he considered pursuing a high-profile transfer quarterback. “I think for us, it’s always been about developing the young men in our program, and I think that gives us the best chance to be successful.”

Those questions are only coming up because of rumors, but those rumors have become widespread enough to turn into a public moment at a high-profile event. What happens next will play a significant role in the expectations for this football team.

Because of those rumors, what happens with this football team is really hard to predict.

“Once it’s time to have clarity to that and then respond to that the right way,” Campbell said. “I know our football team and certainly the young men in our team will do a great job of that.”

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.