AMES — Iowa State senior running back Kene Nwangwu had an outstanding start to his collegiate career.
As a true freshman in 2016, he was second-team All-Big 12 when he averaged 26.5 yards per kick return, which was second in the Big 12 and 15th in the nation. He also averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
That winter, however, he tore his Achilles tendon. That injury set him back for over a year. He redshirted in 2017 and it was easy to tell he wasn’t himself in 2018.
In 2019, he battled injuries again. He averaged an eye-popping 7.2 yards per carry and was once again second in the Big 12 in kick return yardage but injuries held him back from performing for the full 13 games.
In last Saturday’s season-opening loss against Louisiana, Nwangwu finally got his first rushing touchdown.
“It’s a long, long tough road back from Achilles injuries and it hasn’t been easy from there on out,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “To watch Kene, not only run for a touchdown, but his leadership, what he’s done for our football program since March, to be honest with you, has been nothing short of exceptional.”
Nwangwu’s reaction to getting his first rushing touchdown? He was more focused on getting back to the sideline to talk to and encourage sophomore running back Breece Hall.
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“It was a good feeling to help out your team,” Nwangwu said. “Mainly, I was just worried about helping out my other teammates like Breece. He came out because he extended the ball — he didn’t fumble it, but in that situation, he didn’t need to do that.
“Yeah, it was a good feeling to get a touchdown, but moving forward talking to Breece, I was just telling him to play his game. I told him, ‘I know your game is good enough.’ I just want to help out the team anyway I can. Getting a touchdown was just an added bonus on top.”
Nwangwu’s leadership doesn’t go unnoticed by his head coach.
“He’s one of the great leaders of Iowa State football and I really appreciate who is,” Campbell said. “He’s unselfish, wants what’s best for the team and is willing to stand up for what’s right, both on and off the field. That part of it is what I really appreciate about Kene.”
Iowa State’s productive bye week
Iowa State had plenty to fix after its loss to Louisiana on Sept. 12.
Luckily for the Cyclones, they had a bye week to address the issues that arose against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
The fall camp models that coaches and programs have grown accustomed to had to get thrown out of the window in the age of COVID-19. The early bye week gave Iowa State the opportunity to continue its modified fall camp.
“The great thing about the bye week, let’s be honest, is we practiced true football with pads,” Campbell said. “From our standpoint, that was really big because we need to get our guys to where we want them to be. I don’t want to say it was another week of fall camp, per se, but it felt like we were continuing to evaluate ourselves and mold ourselves as a football team.
“We got to see a lot of where we are and where we’re not from the game to weeks ago. It was invaluable for us to continue to grow.”
Injury report and COVID-19 update
For the fourth straight week, Iowa State football hasn’t had a positive COVID-19 test result. The Iowa State athletics department tested 631 student athletes and staff and had zero positive tests.
The Cyclones still need to get through the Wednesday and Friday tests before they can board the plane to Fort Worth, Texas, for Saturday’s game against TCU but early indications are good.
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Three key players are dealing with injuries: Tight end Charlie Kolar, left guard Trevor Downing and right guard Rob Hudson. Kolar and Hudson missed the season opener and Downing was injured during the game.
“I would say Charlie and Trevor are day-to-day,” Campbell said. “I think there’s a really good expectation that they’re both going to make the trip. I think Charlie has certainly made great progress over the last week and a half to two weeks, which is big, but I also wouldn’t say that (he’s) 100 percent and I think we’ll evaluate (if he’s) game-ready by the end of this week. I think Trevor’s made a lot of good progress as well, so you know we’ll kind of evaluate those two guys.
“Rob Hudson’s another guy that certainly (has) potential to help our football team in a really positive way and I think I would throw him in the same boat, a day-to-day guy. So we’ll evaluate all three of those guys to see where they’re at by the time we get to Saturday.”
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