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New throwback uniforms, Jirehl Brock’s full health and more Iowa State spring football takeaways
Brock deployed his signature stutter-step stop-and-go move during a 16-yard touchdown jaunt
AMES — Jirehl Brock briefly considered the question, then smiled and repeated it.
“How close am I to 100 percent?” Iowa State’s top tailback said following the Cyclones’ cold, windy and cloudy spring football game Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. “I’d say I’m 100 percent now, or 99. I’m always getting 1 percent better, so every day I’m 99 percent.”
He was far from that last season after sustaining a severe ankle injury in the 14-11 loss at Kansas that sharply limited his contributions for the next several weeks, then suffered a season-ending foot injury in the 20-14 loss at Oklahoma State.
But Brock looked to be full strength — whether that’s subjectively pegged to be 100 or 99 percent — during the “game” portion of Saturday’s practice. He deployed his signature stutter-step stop-and-go move during a 16-yard touchdown jaunt that sparked the day’s scoring and finished with 11 carries for 47 yards.
“He really carried the ball well,” said Cyclones Coach Matt Campbell, whose team assembled for a spring game in its home stadium for the first time since 2017. “So I think it gives him a lot of confidence and we’ve talked about — you saw a healthy Jirehl Brock the first four games of the season last year and then you didn’t see that guy, so I think that’s big for our football program. Again, I think that’s a positive for us.”
Campbell said Saturday’s events capped a productive series of 15 spring practices for ISU, which will open the season Sept. 2 against Northern Iowa at home.
“I think you’ve seen great growth from our football team,” Campbell said. “The one thing I really appreciate about our group, I thought our coaches, from everybody in the organization, the goals that we set out in January to kind of grow ourselves forward, you’ve really seen that happen. … I think today you came out and saw a team that was fairly disciplined and did a really good job of tackling the football, running the football.
“Some of the things we set out to do, I think there’s been great growth on those areas.”
Several returning starters, including cornerbacks T.J. Tampa and Myles Purchase, didn’t play on Saturday and the Cyclones’ most productive returning receiver, Jaylin Noel, also sat out.
“He just had a tight hamstring,” Campbell said. “We just tried to be smart, but honestly Jaylin had a great spring.”
Now it’s over and summer workouts beckon. With that in mind, here are some other takeaways from Saturday to contemplate before fall camp appears on the horizon.
Tight ends rising
Campbell raved about the development in his mostly young tight ends room and multiple players at that position made noteworthy plays in Saturday’s game.
Redshirt freshmen Gabe Burkle and Andrew Keller both hauled in touchdown catches. Burkle caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Rocco Becht and Keller’s matching 3-yard touchdown grab came from true freshman quarterback J.J. Kohl.
ISU tight ends snared 14 of the game’s 30 completed passes. Keller had five for 44 yards, senior Easton Dean totaled four for 37 yards, redshirt freshman Jack Bjorn had three for 33 yards and Burkle snared two for 25 yards.
“I think that’s a position (that) when we’re good here, that group’s been really positive for us and I think we’ll have a chance to be that come September,” said Campbell, whose top returning tight end DeShawn Hanika has been limited this spring because of injury.
3 strong quarterbacks
One talking point of the spring centered on how returning starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers had been pushed by Becht and Kohl. All three made some skillful throws Saturday, with Becht leading the way with 11 completions in 19 attempts for 112 yards and one touchdown.
Dekkers went 11-for-18 for 101 yards and Kohl connected on 8 of 11 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought Hunter had a really good day,” Campbell said. “I thought Rocco did some great things. You see J.J., I mean, for a kid that’s supposed to be getting ready for prom to be out here playing football and getting live experience, I think it’s huge, and I think J.J.’s done a great job growing to be quite honest all spring as well.”
Dekkers said the most growth he’s made relates to his mindset. He led the Big 12 in completion percentage last season, ranked third in touchdown passes with 19, but also tossed the league’s most interceptions (14).
“I didn’t truly understand how your mind can play a role into a full season like that, so I think growing mentally was really something I needed to do and learn from,” Dekkers said.
Becht said learning behind Dekkers last season proved to be a highly valuable experience.
“He’s been through a lot and he knows a lot,” Becht said of Dekkers, a sophomore from West Sioux entering his fourth year in the program. “So picking his brain all the time is cool to me, just competing with him every day. And then with J.J. coming in, we have a good bond — all of us three, especially because there’s only three of us in the room. So we’ve gotta get along.”
Transfers flash their talent
Eastern Kentucky transfer Jayden Higgins stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds, so he’s already an impressive target on paper. Saturday he showed he could separate from coverage on a touchdown that was called back on penalty while also sliding for a nifty sideline grab, as well.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” said Higgins, who caught 58 passes for 757 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. “I feel like the growth I can have is tremendous.”
Higgins already is an impressive route runner. He uses his length and athleticism to box out and slither past defenders, so his ceiling remains high.
“He’s done a really good job this spring,” Dekkers said of Higgins. “It’s been really fun to work with him and it will be really fun to work with him this fall as well, obviously.”
Cyclone fans also caught their first glimpse of former Stanford transfer running back Arlen (A.J.) Harris, who carried to ball six times for 13 tough yards.
“I think it was a blessing just to be out here with the guys and just get a feel for what this place is,” Harris said.
Throwback tribute uniforms
ISU unveiled Jack Trice-era throwback uniforms that will be worn in the Nov. 7 matchup with TCU. They immediately garnered universal acclaim, both for how they look and the meaning behind them.
Trice, the first African-American to compete for the Cyclones in 1923, died of severe injuries sustained in his second college game against Minnesota. His legacy is honored at ISU in myriad ways — including, of course, in the stadium that bears his name.
“Before I came here I knew nothing about Jack Trice,” said Becht, whose father, Anthony, played 11 seasons in the NFL and is the head coach for the XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks. “When I came here they really (stressed) his name and what he has done in this program. So I learned a lot this past year just playing for him and knowing the mentality that he had when he went into that game against Minnesota.
“We talk about Jack Trice all the time in the team meeting room with coach Campbell. It’s awesome.”