A closer look: Iowa State special teams
Cyclones have options in return game
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THE DEPTH CHART
Kickers — Cole Netten, sr., 6-1, 210; Chris Francis, so., 6-0, 180; Eric Silvester, fr., 5-10, 196
Punters — Colin Downing, jr., 5-11, 185; Zach Hoover, fr., 6-2, 175
Long snapper — Steve Wirtel, fr., 6-4, 205; Quinn Sonntag, fr., 6-0, 226
Kick returner — Trever Ryen, jr,., 5-11, 192; Jomal Wiltz, sr., 5-10, 178; D’Andre Payne, so., 5-10, 190
Punt returners — Allen Lazard, jr,, 6-5, 223; Trever Ryen, jr., 5-11, 192; D’Andre Payne, so., 5-10, 190; Deshaunte Jones, fr., 5-10, 175
NEXT MAN IN: Options in return game
Iowa State has two proven faces at punt return in Trever Ryen and Allen Lazard. Ryen was put on scholarship early last season and had a punt return for a touchdown against Northern Iowa and averaged 15.5 yards per return on 11 opportunities.
Lazard was the top option at punt returner and averaged 19.5 yards per return, a school record. That mark would have led the conference, but his 11 returns didn’t go above the minimum number for consideration.
“That’s something I really enjoy,” Lazard said of special teams. “I just love playing the game. I would play every play if I could. I love competing and I love going out there and trying to help my team win. Whenever I can get out on the field I’ll be out there.”
Jomal Wiltz gives an option in the kick return alongside Ryen.
A couple new faces in freshman Deshaunte Jones and sophomore D’Andre Payne also have staked their claim for a chance to be punt returners along with Ryen and Lazard.
“We feel like there are four guys that can do it,” said Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell. “To say right now we know who’s going to walk out there on that first punt return opportunity, I don’t know if I can tell you that. What it does is it gives us options and it gives us ability to be creative in the punt return game.”
Freshman Steve Wirtel assumes long snapping duties. The Orland Park, Ill., native was the No. 6 long snapper in the 2016 class, according to Kohl’s Kicking and was a three-year starter in high school. During his final two seasons, Wirtel was perfect on his snaps going 372-for-372.
“Steve Wirtel is maybe as good as anyone in the country,” said special teams coordinator Bryan Gasser. “He’s a kid that if he continues to progress he’ll have a chance to play that position for a long time because he’s just a guy that’s got great physical size. He’s got great speed to cover down the field and really puts the ball exactly where you want it every single time.”