AMES — Iowa State wide receivers have the tall task next season of replacing Hakeem Butler’s production.
Butler put up the best individual season of any Cyclone receiver last season when he recorded 60 receptions for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns.
The 6-foot-6 Butler declared for the NFL Draft after his redshirt junior season and now Iowa State coach Matt Campbell and receivers coach Nate Scheelhasse are tasked with filling the void.
Senior Deshaunte Jones has emerged as the leader of the receivers room. He started playing as a true freshman and has amassed 108 receptions, 1,175 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.
“With him being a senior, we’re definitely leaning on him,” Scheelhaase said. “We made that obvious to him and I think him and coach Campbell have had a lot of good talks this offseason about his role as a leader on this team. I think what we’ve all seen and been excited about is hearing his voice more. We’re leaning on him on the field, off the field and in all situations.”
Jones credits former receivers like Allen Lazard, Trever Ryen, Butler and Matt Eaton for being in the position he’s in now.
“Those guys did a lot of great things, and I’m just trying to take on that challenge of doing the things they did,” Jones said. “They set the standard high and I’m just trying to go up there and reach it.”
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Jones will be aided by redshirt sophomore Tarique Milton. Milton and Jones split time at the “M” position last season, which is essentially the slot receiver. But in the spring, Milton has been moved outside to Lazard’s and Butler’s “X” position.
Milton is much shorter than those two at 5-foot-10, but he has burner-type speed.
“He makes plays down the field,” Scheelhaase said. “That’s what Tarique did a lot last year and has continued to do for us. He can run up on people and then get past them.”
Milton caught 34 passes for 417 yards last season and one touchdown. His longest catch of the season was 60 yards and he averaged 12.3 yards per reception.
While Milton is fast, there is one other thing that help separates him.
“He’s a savvy football player,” said Scheelhaase, who played quarterback at Illinois and was the running backs coach at Iowa State before moving to receivers coach this spring. “He’s as smart of a football player on the field as I’ve been around at any position — receiver, running back, quarterback — he’s a smart, smart football player.
“He understands how the game works, he understands coverages, where he fits at different positions on the field. That’s where you feel like you can move him inside and outside and he can have a lot of success.”
Milton didn’t always have that gift. He started working on it last spring by going into the film room every day and studying defenses and various techniques and tendencies of cornerbacks and safeties.
“Learning defenses is really what put the icing on the cake of my game,” Milton said. “Growing up, I didn’t know defenses, I just played with my skill set. Now that I can read defenses and play with what coach (Tom) Manning calls accelerated vision, that’s just how I play now.”
Milton said he wants to prove to Campbell that he’s ready to fill Butler’s shoes and play outside.
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One thing he’ll have to prove is that he can win 50-50 balls, something Butler excelled at to the point where it felt like it was a 95-5 ball in favor of Butler. Milton doesn’t have near the size, so he’s relying on his speed, quickness and knowledge of the game to win those situations.
“When it comes down to winning 50-50 balls, it comes down to technique,” Milton said. “I have to study the cornerback and see what his weak spots are and use that against him.
“I study the weak spots during the game and the week before. But when it’s gameday, that’s when you really get to evaluate him.”
Iowa State has a stable of young receivers that need to prove themselves in the spring and going into the fall. Five-foot-11 Josh Johnson, 6-foot-2 Joe Scates, 6-foot-3 Jalen Martin and 6-foot-6 Sean Shaw are all guys the coaching staff has mentioned as potential contributors alongside Jones and Milton.
“I’m one of the older guys in the room, so I need to lead those younger guys and make sure they know what they’re doing,” Jones said. “The standard was risen with Lazard and Butler, and now we’re trying to set it even higher so this program can go further than where we have been.”
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