116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell credited Kene Nwangwu with two wins last season thanks to his kick returning ability.
Nwangwu had an 85-yard kick return against Oklahoma that sparked Iowa State to 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
“If you ask me, that’s the play of the game,” Campbell said after the game. “If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know what the outcome is. I think, literally, that play was the difference in the football game. That was a huge momentum swing for us.”
Against Baylor, Nwangwu had a 67-yard kick return that spurred Iowa State to 28 unanswered points.
“For Kene, how many times have I said this now? Three, right?” Campbell said, referring to Nwangwu’s 48-yard run against TCU as the third time. “That kickoff return was really the momentum changer in the game. Kene’s had that with a run, a kick return and then now he did it again with an elite kick return.”
Nwangwu was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, in large part because of his return ability.
Campbell has been tasked with trying to find someone to take over the position Nwangwu held for four years.
“You can’t replace a guy like Kene,” Campbell said. “The plays he made in the kick return game were game-changing. There are some guys we’ve taken a look at.”
One of the four names Campbell mentioned was Deon Silas, a running back who enrolled early this spring. Silas was a 3-star recruit from Florida who picked Iowa State over TCU, West Virginia and Virginia. He’s just 5-foot-8, but he has speed and shiftiness in excess.
Campbell also mentioned receiver Jaylin Noel, another true freshman. Noel returned kicks in high school, which Campbell pointed to as a reason for giving Noel a strong look.
The final two named were established players Xavier Hutchinson and Joe Scates, both receivers.
“It’ll be a really good competition all the way through fall camp,” Campbell said. “That’ll be a big question mark we have to answer, for sure.
“That was such a big area of success for us last year and we need to find someone who will have success in the kick return game.”
The rest of Iowa State’s special teams are pretty cut and dry.
Tarique Milton will handle punt-return duties.
Punter Joe Rivera graduated and Australian Corey Dunn will take over after recovering from a torn Achilles. Dunn averaged 40.8 yards per punt in 2018, had 23 punts downed inside the 20 and had 10 50-plush yard punts.
Connor Assalley returns to handle Iowa State’s placekicking duties, but he’ll have competition in Fordham graduate transfer Andrew Mevis.
Mevis boasts a strong leg and already has won the kickoff job, where Iowa State has struggled mightily during the past two seasons, rarely getting touchbacks.
In 2019, Mevis had 50 touchbacks in 63 kickoffs. Drake Nettles, who split time with others handling kickoff duties, had two touchbacks in 42 kickoffs.
“We’re excited about these groups and we’re excited to get Andrew because he gives us a threat and consistency in some areas that we haven’t had in two years,” Campbell said.