AMES — When Trever Ryen joined the Iowa State football team as a walk on, the expectations were modest.
If the former UNI track and field athlete could rejoin the sport he loved and play on special teams at some point, Ryen would call his football dream fulfilled.
But in the last two years, his career has yielded much more than he envisioned.
“Trever is one of those guys that maximizes his potential and maximizes his ability,” said Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell. “He is as in tune in how he takes care of his body to how he studies the game of football to how he prepares. He’s a fanatic about it, and you appreciate that. The results of what happens in terms of his success are directly related to it.”
Ryen was hampered in the middle of the season by an ankle injury, but has nearly doubled his production in catches and yards from last year. He has 30 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns, and as a punt returner is averaging 17.3 yards per return with five returns of 25 yards or more.
Last week Ryen was named a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which recognizes the nation’s best player who started their career as a walk on. Ryen redshirted in 2014 was named a starting punt returner in 2015 and was given a scholarship in the middle of that season.
“I remember how I felt when I first came in, you don’t know anybody,” said Ryen, who was not named a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy. “I was lucky enough to work with Drake Ferch and Luke Knott the summer before I came in.
“I know the other guys really don’t have people to talk to when they first come in. I kind of go and introduce myself and tell them, its going to suck a little bit but just work through it and it’ll all be worth it.”
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In addition to his special teams hopes, Ryen started out with the Cyclones as a defensive back. Wide receiver Allen Lazard, who was a freshman in Ryen’s first season with the team, remembers going against Ryen’s scout team.
“Thank god he changed positions because that was pretty bad,” Lazard said with a wide grin. “Just to see his work ethic and to see his determination every single day is unbelievable. To see his development and growth is great.”
Ryen recalled one of his first practices and his conversation with Ferch about becoming a kickoff or punt returner. He got pointed in the direction of former ISU defensive line and special teams coordinator Shane Burnham, who gave him his first look.
“He’s like just go see what you can do,” Ryen said. “So I took it and did something with it. Just catch every ball. Don’t let any hit the ground.
“Everything’s history from there.”
Ryen is one of a handful walk-ons or former walk-ons Campbell has relied on to help initiate his culture change. Others like Josh Jahlas, Mitchell Harger and Nick Fett — all Iowans — are the kind of walk-ons Campbell wants to integrate into the program.
“They’ve been the foundation and the rock as this culture has started to really change,” Campbell said. “If you look at their season so far, all those guys — and I’m sure I’m leaving a couple guys out and I certainly don’t want to — have played the most consistent and maybe some of the best football on our football team this year, game to game.”
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