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AMES — Paul Rhoads could see it from the first day of fall camp. Sam Richardson’s progress couldn’t be ignored.
From spring practices through fall camp, the steps the junior quarterback had taken to improve physically, understand the playbook better and boost his confidence were all things the sixth-year ISU coach was looking for.
Those factors are what led Rhoads to name Richardson the Cyclones’ starting quarterback for the season opener on Aug. 30.
“He’s displayed great leadership and that certainly includes poise in the pocket where he’s been very much in control of our offense and of himself,” Rhoads said of Richardson. “His understanding of the scheme and decision making has really grown in the time that we’ve spent here the last two weeks. And maybe as much as anything, he’s throwing a great ball, an accurate ball, a tight ball and a catchable ball.”
Richardson said he could sense throughout the last week which way the coaches would lean in the competition between himself and sophomore Grant Rohach, but that didn’t make the news of officially hearing he would be the starter any less special.
The Winter Park, Fla., native felt like the deciding factor that set him apart as the starter was as simple as being more consistent throughout the first two weeks of fall camp.
“I think that’s the main thing that stood out between the two of us,” Richardson said. “I felt like I was more consistent throughout the practices and not really having a low day throughout camp so that definitely paid off.”
Even though he started the first eight games of last season, Richardson was no shoe-in to win the job again this fall. Rohach led the Cyclones to wins against Kansas and West Virginia to end last year, while posting back-to-back 300-yard passing games in those wins.
Richardson was buried on the depth chart in the spring, and took reps second to begin fall camp, but Rhoads credited the junior’s perseverance even when things weren’t going well.
“There was a point in the spring where he was on the bottom looking up,” Rhoads said. “A lot of credit goes to him, his thick skin, his self-drive and motivation to compete. At this level, you need that competition and that’s truly what we had going on and he’s the one that surfaced.”
Rhoads added that there would be no rotation of quarterbacks, barring any injuries at the position. Unlike last season with Rohach waiting for his turn to jump into the game, Rhoads said Richardson would be the starter going forward and not have “a hand on his shoulder.”
In knowing that he will be commanding the offense, Richardson knows he will have to do a bit more this time around than just try to lead by example.
“I guess now I’ve got to lead now more with my words especially as the quarterback,” Richardson said. “It’s kind of a given that you’ve got to be the vocal guy so that’s the role I’ll try to settle into.”