MARION - As the prep volleyball season nears the midway point, Cedar Rapids Xavier identified a vital ingredient if the Saints are to retain their No. 1 ranking in Class 4A.
Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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AMES — Cole Netten and Colin Downing always have been close.
Specialists spend lots of time together and Iowa State’s kicker and punter are no exception.
But this go around has been different. There has been an added bond forged and it extends beyond the field.
“I actually went to his wedding this summer,” Downing said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together the last three years, obviously, but I think we’ve become pretty close, especially this past summer because we’re kind of the last two that have been together for the longest.”
Freshman Zach Hoover is listed as the backup punter, but Downing ultimately controls the position. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior is on the Ray Guy Award watch list and averaged 40.9 yards per punt on 53 kicks last season. Downing forced opponents into 21 fair catches and put 20 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Downing also showed himself as a weapon in a fake last season against Baylor, rushing for eight yards and a first down. Look for Iowa State to use that skill set with the new coaching staff pulling the strings.
“If you look at our history, we’ve gotten involved with some different fakes and different things along those lines,” said special teams coordinator Bryan Gasser. “Colin gives you that. He’s an athletic kid. Whether you’re throwing the ball to him or running the ball with him, he’s got a pretty good arm so you can bring a lot of different things to the table with a kid like that.”
Summer work with Kohl’s Kicking and a successful run through fall camp has Downing feeling the best he’s felt going into a season. He said his mechanics are smoother, his steps more precise and his catching ability sharpened.
“For some reason I just have a completely different focus,” Downing said. “I think it has a lot to do with my ups and downs the past two years and just a lot with working with guys like Jamie Kohl and even talking with Cole. He’s been a big help in my career.”
When Netten runs onto the field for field goals and PATs, Downing will be able to return the favor as his holder. That job as place-kicker wasn’t maybe as clear cut as it appeared.
The 6-1, 210-pound senior had sophomore Chris Francis in hot pursuit with freshman Eric Silvester in the mix, but Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said Netten will be the place-kicker and Francis will execute kickoffs. Netten’s uncertainty on retaining his job kept him alert.
“They don’t care if you’ve been starting for three years or haven’t started at all,” Netten said. “They’re going to put out on the field what they see on film. It’s kind of good in a way as far as motivational-wise to kick my best at all times.”
Netten missed five of his first 11 kicks as a junior, but made his last eight and was 73.7 percent on the season. During that streak he made four kicks from 40-plus yards, which is tied for the third-longest streak in program history.
The trick is to stay even, no matter what happens.
“It’s about making your bad days still good,” Netten said. “Not having your bad days be bad, if that makes any sense to you. When your good days are great and then your bad days are still good. That’s one of the main focuses I’ve been trying to work on.”
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