INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell wasn’t bound to make drastic changes to his game-week depth chart, but he insisted there would be noticeable moves.
The primary changes came in the form of young players finding their way onto the two-deep and not just to serve as placeholders.
Nine true freshmen and six redshirt freshmen appear throughout the depth chart, but not out of desperation on the part of coaches. Campbell lauded his young players during the spring and fall and expects contributions in some form.
Iowa State opens its season against Northern Iowa, ranked No. 5 in the preseason FCS poll, at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Ames.
“It doesn’t bother me if you’re a senior or a freshman, the best player’s going to play,” Campbell said. “I can even go back to a school like Mount Union where we were extremely talented top to bottom. But if you were the best player at your position, you were going to play.
“And now all of a sudden, the pressure’s on everybody to be your best everyday. You love that competition because competition makes the best of all of us.”
Iowa State had just six true freshmen play during the last three seasons — Nigel Tribune (2013), Allen Lazard, Jauan Wesley and Colin Downing (2014) and Carson Epps and Joshua Thomas (2015) — but has five slotted on the two-deep on the offense alone.
Running backs David Montgomery and Kene Nwangwu solidified their roles as backups to sophomore Mike Warren in fall camp. Tight end Chase Allen, wide receiver Deshaunte Jones and offensive tackle Sean Foster all are filled in as second-teamers.
“Those guys have a lot of talent,” said junior quarterback Joel Lanning. “They’re going to help us in any way they possibly can and I’ve seen what they can do for the last three weeks and I know what they can do at this level. They just need to believe in themselves and go on the field and not have any worries and just play football.”
Leo defensive end JaQuan Bailey, nose guard Jamahl Johnson and cornerback Arnold Azunna all are slotted behind seniors Gabe Luna, Demond Tucker and Jomal Wiltz. Long snapper Steve Wirtel is the lone true freshman on special teams.
As of Monday, Campbell said there haven’t been any determinations of the amount of snaps the freshmen could get against the Panthers.
“They earned the right to be there,” said senior linebacker Kane Seeley. “The guys that are going to be on the field, it’s because they’re legit and they’re going to be ready to play. I’m looking forward to watching those freshmen out there this year.”
Allen Lazard, who averaged a school-record 19.5 yards per punt return on 11 opportunities last season, was left off the chart at punt returner. Junior Trever Ryen and Jones were the only two penciled in at that spot, but Campbell said that doesn’t necessarily mean Lazard couldn’t be thrown in on special teams.
“I think for us it’s just a matter of, Trever has certainly been a guy that’s been dynamic back there,” Campbell said. “Trever’s had a really good fall camp in a multitude of different ways. I don’t know if it’s plus or minus and I don’t know if you won’t see him back there. That depth chart, especially the returner piece of it, I think is a little bit fluid as we start the season.”
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