AMES — Iowa State football only lost one fumble all of last season.
It came at a critical time in the Liberty Bowl versus Memphis and from an unlikely source, star running back David Montgomery.
Even though the Cyclones won the game, Montgomery still isn’t over the fumble.
“I feel like I let my team down,” Montgomery said. “All the good stuff I did was never enough, it never amounted to what it could’ve been. I definitely don’t want to let my team go through that again.”
This spring, Montgomery is determined to better himself as a running back. Last season, he improvised a lot and many of his big runs came on his ability.
Now, the former high school quarterback wants to understand blocking schemes and personnel packages better to grow as a running back.
“There are intricacies in the position that he has plenty of room to grow in,” new Iowa State running backs coach Nate Scheelhaase said. “He’s so natural with the ball in his hands that he can do some things on his own, but he can grow in learning about the offense and how the tailback fits into the offense.”
Coach Matt Campbell believes Montgomery’s growth will coincide with the offensive line’s growth.
“The greatest challenge to this football team is, can this offensive line grow?” Campbell said. “And can this offensive line become what championship teams look like when they have championship offensive lines? We’re not there yet, but there is a lot of room to work.
“That’ll allow our running backs to grow. David, a lot of it was improvised. David has phenomenal athleticism in his ability to do things in space. That natural running back talent and skillset, I don’t know if we’ve got to see that yet because there’s been a lot of improvising.”
But it won’t be just Montgomery in the backfield for the Cyclones. Campbell said he has three or four guys who already have game-film evidence of being a college-level running back.
One of the key backs will be Kene Nwangwu, who missed last season with a torn Achilles.
As a true freshman, Nwangwu showed his ability and speed as a returner. Now, he wants his role to grow, whether it’s in the backfield or in the slot.
He said he’s still the fastest guy on the team.
“Kene, when he gets out on an edge, there isn’t anybody who can catch him,” Scheelhaase said. “He’s a guy that might have to slow himself down to make the runs and fit the blocks.”
While Montgomery is the “bell cow,” all of Iowa State’s running backs bring a different skill set. That’s why it’ll be important for them to find their niche, whether it’s alone in the backfield, in the slot, or lining up with two backs in the backfield.
“We all have different abilities. Kene is our speed guy, when he touches the ball, you’re not catching him,” Montgomery said. “Johnny (Lang) is shifty. Very, very shifty — he can make you miss in a phone booth. Mike (Warren) is strong, firm — he can handle a whole lot of pressure from bigger guys. Sheldon (Croney), he’s a patient guy and he can make people miss.
“And I just do, I guess, what I do. I don’t know what I have, I just play.”
Campbell likes having the problem of trying to figure out who needs to play where.
“In reality, there’s a lot of competition in that room,” Campbell said. “That’s the neat thing about us, offensively, is you continue to evolve. My theory on it is, ‘players, formations, plays’ and how do you find ways to get those guys involved. We feel confident that we have four or five guys there that can do some really special things.”
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