AMES — Iowa State football’s middle linebacker spot is still hotly contested.
The coaches have narrowed the search to three players, Cedar Rapids native O’Rien Vance, redshirt junior Bobby McMillen and true freshman Mike Rose.
But two veterans anchor the outside to help the development in the middle. Sam linebacker Willie Harvey is a redshirt senior and a four-year starter, and will linebacker Marcel Spears is a redshirt junior who burst on the scene last season for the Cyclones.
Linebackers coach Tyson Veidt said Harvey is having his best offseason since Campbell’s staff has arrived.
“It’s really encouraging for us, encouraging for him, encouraging for the defense and encouraging for our entire team,” Veidt said. “In my mind, you could start to see that through the spring just with each day and all the way through. He was a consistent and steady guy for us. That’s a credit to him, his work ethic and what he’s done to put himself in this position. He’s doing a really good job with the younger guys, too.”
Harvey, who recorded 76 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss, second most on the team, knows his time is ticking down and he wants to make the most of it.
“I’m just thankful to make it to my senior season,” Harvey said. “I do have a sense of urgency, but I can’t control it, just play my best football. This will be one of my best years, so I’m not worried about that.
“I can’t let anything slide. When you’re younger, you let stuff slide, ‘Oh, I got next year.’ But now, I have to get this done, the culture is depending on me and what I do.”
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On the weak side, Veidt wants Spears to improve on his breakout season. Last season, Spears recorded 107 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two game-sealing interceptions.
The first clinching pick came against Texas Tech when Spears intercepted a screen pass and returned it for a touchdown. The next came just one week later against No. 4 TCU. Late in the game, Spears nabbed another one that allowed Iowa State to run out the clock.
“You expect a lot from (returning starters),” Veidt said. “(Marcel) is a leader for us on the field, he is a leader off the field for us. You hope he can make every single play he made last fall for us, plus a few more — that’d be a really good year.”
Harvey also had a pick-six against Northern Iowa. Harvey and Spears like the friendly competition.
“Competition is everything to us,” Harvey said. “We live and die by it in the linebacker room.”
But Harvey realizes how good Spears is and could be.
“That’s my little big brother,” Harvey said. “I love the dude. Him, how much he’s grown, it’s really amazing. He’s such a good player and he’s going to be one of the best linebackers to ever play here.”
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