ISU senior tight end Easton Dean leads a deep, but largely unproven room into 2023

Iowa State tight end Easton Dean hurdles Texas Tech defensive back Rayshad Williams en route to the end zone for a touchdown during a NCAA football game on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. © Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK 

AMESEaston Dean felt like his moment had arrived.

 The former quarterback and converted tight end for Iowa State bided his time behind Cyclone stars Charlie Kolar, Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner, then emerged from last fall’s camp primed to shine before a hamstring injury shrouded that sun-drenched forecast.

 “I had a soft tissue problem last year, a little injury that hit me up,” said Dean, a senior who’s healthy now and eager to help lead a deep tight ends room. “I continued, like, ‘I’ve just got to work through it,’ you know? You can’t give up on it. You’ve just got to keep working to get better. That’s all you can do.”

 Dean’s physical struggles last season epitomized ISU’s as a whole. The Cyclones lost six games decided by one score, limping to a 4-8 finish after five straight winning seasons. Now ISU must break in a new starting quarterback, which is where Dean and his fellow tight ends come in. That position group has served as a so-called security blanket for previous play callers — and several tight ends are capable of adopting that customary role.

 “We’ve always said (we’re) at our best (when) having guys that we can put into different spots and they can be playmakers both in the run game and in the pass game,” Cyclone offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase said.

 The 6-6, 265-pound Dean stands front and center in that regard for now, but several others — including redshirt freshman and former Cedar Rapids Prairie standout Gabe Burkle — appear poised to make major contributions, as well.

 “Gabe Burkle probably had one of the best springs that any of those guys had,” Scheelhaase said. “And the veteranness of Easton Dean, we feel like that’s a guy who can do it all.”

 Dean has put on 35 pounds of muscle since he arrived on campus in 2019, but the learning curve at tight end initially proved to be vast. 

 “I had no experience when I first got here, so over the years, learning from Chuck (Kolar), Chase (Allen) and Dylan (Soehner), that was huge for me. Those few years I got to sit back and watch those guys and study those guys, and just learn from those guys was huge for me.”

 Now Dean’s serving as the mentor for players such as Burkle, Andrew Keller, Tyler Moore and talented true freshman Ben Brahmer.

 “I feel like it’s my responsibility,” said Dean, who despite being limited by the hamstring issue, cradled his first two career touchdown catches last season. “I have to do that for these young guys, like, pass it on, so that long after I’m gone the way (ISU) tight ends go about themselves, it never changes. Our mentality never changes.”

 Brahmer, who committed to Nebraska before switching to the Cyclones, is one of a handful of true freshmen that coaches have raved about this fall. The 6-7, 241-pounder from Pierce, Neb., set a Nebraska 11-man football state record for most catches and yards in a game with 11 grabs for 249 yards.

 “You can tell he’s a coach’s son,” Scheelhaase said. “The way that his dad (Mark) worked with him and taught him, like, he’s been a part of great football programs, championship programs, so he has one way to go about his business and it’s been fun to see.”

 Dean’s having fun again, too — and primed to shine as a senior after a one-season delay because of mostly cloudy physical conditions.

 “What I want to show is my explosiveness with the ball in my hands,” the 6-6, 265-pounder said. “Last year’s (injury) kind of set me back a bit, so just getting out there, being healthy and being a valuable target out there for a quarterback is gonna be huge for me this year.”

 Huge for the team, too.

 “You put him in front of a board and have him draw up every run scheme we have, he knows it,” Scheelhaase said. “Every pass scheme, he knows it. So having a guy like that in the room (brings) a lot to the table.”