Oct 28, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Rocco Becht (3) passes the ball against the Baylor Bears during the first half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Rocco Becht’s statistics speak for themselves. They translate into the Iowa State quarterback earning Big 12 offensive freshman of the year honors and help spotlight the Cyclones’ path back to a winning season after going 4-8 in 2022.
But the redshirt freshman’s solid numbers — 20 touchdown passes to eight interceptions — are overshadowed by the actions he took when no one else was watching last season. When he toiled as a backup before becoming a first-time starter for a reinvigorated ISU team (7-5) that will face Memphis (9-3) in the Dec. 29 Liberty Bowl in, ahem, Memphis.
“Last year, I probably didn’t get too many reps with him, but when (I) did, it was a great connection,” junior wide receiver Jaylin Noel said. “He was communicating, making sure we were on the same page at all times and that bond just continued to grow. Him stepping into a spot this year maybe that was unexpected for him, he’s just continued to grow in being able to be a leader amongst leaders.”
None of that came without adversity, which is by design. Becht entered fall camp as the Cyclones’ clear No. 1 quarterback, but true freshman J.J. Kohl mounted such as strong charge that the young duo split game reps early in the season. Becht, however, fully took control of the job by week two and managed to break two of Brock Purdy’s freshman records while eventually being named a second-team freshman All-American by The Athletic. Two fellow ISU freshmen — tight end Ben Brahmer and tailback Abu Sama — earned freshman All-American accolades from various media outlets, as well.
“I think that’s (because) of the work we were able to put into the offseason, you know, the work, the time, and the hours that we put in just to make this season happen when others thought it might have (gone) downhill at the beginning of the season,” Becht said. “They’ve worked hard. They’ve made my job easy — not just them, but the supporting cast that I have. I’m happy for them and they were the ones to help me get the awards I’ve been given.”
Now, it’s on to Memphis, which features the nation’s seventh-best scoring offense at 39.7 points per game. Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell said injured sophomore safety Malik Verdon would be considered “50-50” in terms of playing in the game at this point. He also noted that sure-fire NFL Draft pick T.J. Tampa might opt out of the Liberty Bowl to ensure he’s fully healthy in advance of what looks to be a promising pro career.
“The only guy that’s in that mode is T.J. and we really haven’t gotten into those conversations yet,” Campbell said. “I think at the point in time that we need to, we all, and again, I think we’ve got to protect the guys that we need to protect for themselves and their future, but as of right now, the positive is everybody’s practiced and everybody’s been practicing.”
And Campbell means “everybody.” ISU’s youthful roster features just 10 scholarship seniors and many of the younger players who didn’t see much game action this season are gaining valuable reps during bowl prep.
“It’s been a pretty good balance for the younger guys and older guys,” said Noel, who leads the Cyclones in receptions (60) and receiving touchdowns (six). “The older guys being able to get reps but also help coach up the younger guys, helping those guys get a little bit more reps.”
Becht — who almost qualifies as “an older guy,” based on a full season of starting experience — is also benefitting from the extra practice time. He’s using it to both hone his skills and amplify his voice as a leader on one of the nation’s youngest teams.
“What I appreciate about him is the ‘it’ factor that he brings to the table,” Campbell said. “And we’ve talked about this, too — how do you keep filling in the gaps? How do you keep growing as a quarterback within the system? There’s a lot of growth out there for him to continue to grow into.”