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AMES — Iowa State’s defense lost its all-time leading tackler Mike Rose to graduation.
Fellow linebacker Jake Hummel — who played in a program-record 63 games — has also moved on.
Same goes for safety Greg Eisworth, the Cyclones’ second player ever to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors three times, and NFL draftee defensive tackle Enyi Uwazurike.
But it’s who returns — not who has departed — that underpins defensive coordinator Jon Heacock’s enthusiasm for the 2022 season.
“You’re optimistic about what the young people bring,” Heacock said. “We’ve been about to watch that in spring ball, winter conditioning and summer camp last year. They’ve grown a lot. We’ve got a lot of work to do, obviously, with the losses, but football 101, I think they’re pretty sharp and I think we’ve just gotta get out here and get some reps.”
ISU also returns its all-time sacks leader in Will McDonald, who could have chosen to go pro in 2021, but decided developing his skills one more season at the collegiate level made the most sense. He’ll also become the first member of his family to earn a college degree at the end of the semester.
“I think that means a lot to (him),” Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said. “In a day and age where we’ve maybe lost sight of some of those things, I think when you talk to Will, (he’s) very thoughtful and understanding of how important that is. And then the other piece of it is just really consistently getting himself to be one of the best defensive lineman in the country, he felt like there was still room for growth.”
There is — and he has plenty of company. A healthy O’Rien Vance is back to lead the linebacker corps. Veteran defensive back Anthony Johnson shifted to safety to make room for several talented, but younger cornerbacks and defensive tackle Isaiah Lee is back to solidify the defense’s interior.
“I feel like we’re still that team that, you know, we’re missing key players that played a lot, but you never knew what you actually had behind (them),” said Lee, who recorded four of his 5.5 tackles for loss in the final half of last season. “So I feel like we’ve got great players all around, from the back end to the front. That’s what I’m waiting for fall camp to see us put it all together and see what we have this season.”
‘X’ marks the spots
The return of first team All-Big 12 receiver Xavier Hutchinson givs first-year starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers a prime No. 1 target. Hutchinson caught a single-season school record 83 passes last season and scored five touchdowns. Expect more of the same — and more of it — this season.
“‘X’ is a unique player,” Campbell said. “He can do a lot of different things and I think the best thing ‘X’ is is getting the football in his hands — he’s a dynamic playmaker. I think you’ve seen us be able to do that a multitude of different ways: down the field, screen game, all those kinds of things. ‘X’ is a guy that can kind of do it all.”