116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
GILBERT — Spring practice wound down under a cloudless sky.
A chill filled the air at Gilbert Stadium just north of Ames Friday evening, but for Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell and his staff, the atmospheric conditions continue to heat up.
Next up: Evaluating how his mostly new-look Cyclones performed during 15 spring practices, from top to bottom. It’s not tedious. It’s one of Campbell’s favorite times of the year — regardless of the outside temperature.
“I love it,” Campbell said of taking stock entering ISU’s summer conditioning program. “To me, there’s even been, since January, when we’ve been back here, there’s been just a different energy. We’ve always been at our best when we feel like we’ve got something to prove and I feel like this group, this locker room, I think everybody here has kind of got a mentality that they’ve got something to prove — and we all do.”
Starting jobs aren’t won or lost during spring ball, but players can make significant pushes to increase reps both in future practices and games in the fall. One position that seems very settled for the Cyclones is quarterback, where redshirt sophomore Hunter Dekkers has emerged as the clear successor to record-setting four-year starter Brock Purdy.
“I think when you have such turnover, especially at the quarterback position, I think every day the checklist of what we're trying to get accomplished starts at the quarterback spot,” Campbell said of the former West Sioux star. “How many adverse situations can you put (him) in? How many different players can you put around him to see can he bring those guys up with him? And then how many situations — (like) coming outside and playing in this environment? Some two-minute situations throughout spring, putting (him) in some tough spots and forcing him to work through those things.
“Man, I'd rather him have tough, tough days and work through hard right now than I want to see him have to work through hard come the fall.”
Dekkers will lean on the good hands and good nature of all-Big 12 receiver Xavier Hutchinson, who headlines a group of ISU receivers that’s talented but mostly unproven.
“We’ve kind of grown to be really good close friends,” Dekkers said earlier this month of his relationship with Hutchinson. “Now that I’m throwing to him is even cooler.”
So Dekkers and Hutchinson are clearly the top guys at their respective positions. How about everyone else? Veterans dot the lineup, but a variety of younger players are pushing for playing time — including behind Deckers.
True freshman Rocco Becht took some of the No. 2 reps Friday night and connected with sophomore Daniel Jackson on a 40-yard touchdown. Preferred walk-on and redshirt freshman Ashton Cook of Iowa City Regina also took some snaps as the No. 2 quarterback and locked up with true freshman receiver Greg Gaines on an impressive touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
Dekkers himself sprinted into the end zone on a 24-yard keeper, so he was not to be outdone by his backups.
“What Hunter does have is competitive excellence and that’s a great trait to have as a quarterback,” Campbell said. “You certainly see talent and ability. Those are great traits, but man, quarterback’s a different animal. … It’s about can you handle the grind of playing power five quarterback and handle the success and failure that comes with it? Time will tell.”
Jirehl Brock — much like Dekkers — looks to be the top option to slide into the lineup behind a program legend in Breece Hall, who could end up being the first running back selected later this month in the NFL Draft.
Veteran guard Trevor Downing is poised to shine at center after four-year starter Colin Newell graduated. Proven players such as all-time sacks leader Will McDonald, linebacker O’Rien Vance and safety Anthony Johnson anchor each level of the Cyclones' defense, but what they’ve done in the past is a moot point now.
And that’s just the way they like it.
“Everyone has a chip on their shoulder,” said Johnson, who shifted from cornerback to safety this spring. “You can feel it. Everybody wants to be the guy. Everybody wants to start. Everybody wants to be in (Jack Trice Stadium) making those plays.
“And when you’ve got that consistently, the sky’s the limit.”