Iowa State’s football team has something big to pursue Saturday that transcends any individual matters. Namely, to clinch sole possession of first place in the Big 12’s final standings.
But if senior wide receiver Landen Akers could catch a touchdown pass, that would make a lot of Cyclones happy Saturday when they play West Virginia in Ames in Akers’ home finale.
Akers hasn’t taken a football into the end zone since he’s been a Cyclone, but has done plenty of other good things on the field since he left Cedar Rapids Washington in 2015.
He has 35 career catches for 550 yards, which makes him a big-play guy. In 2018 he caught a 55-yard pass at Oklahoma State and a 37-yarder against Oklahoma. Last year he had a 32-yard catch in a victory over TCU. This year he had a 49-yarder against TCU, and a 35-yarder in Iowa State’s win over Oklahoma.
His top career play, though, may have been the punt he blocked and recovered at the Baylor 11-yard line in the fourth quarter of the Cyclones’ 38-24 comeback win over the Bears in Ames on Nov. 7
“I’ve been looking to block a punt my whole career,” Akers said after that game.
“Landen has been that guy for us that’s the glue for our football program,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said Tuesday.
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“For the last three years he has started on almost every special team, our kickoff-return team, our punt team, our punt-return team. He’s a guy that has been incredible in terms of his growth from a young age to now as a wide receiver.
“Some of our biggest moments this year, it may be a play Landen had made that kind of sparked those moments.”
Flash back to Akers’ first year in college. He wasn’t on scholarship. Then-Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads invited Akers to join the program as a grey-shirt. That meant Akers paid his own tuition for a semester, wasn’t part of the team, and didn’t lose any athletic eligibility. He went on scholarship in January. He stocked shelves and bagged groceries at a Fareway in Ames during his first months in town.
“That was my suggestion,” said Akers’ mother, Kymm Barnes of Cedar Rapids. “He could only take 10 credits so I said he should find something to earn some extra cash.”
Rhoads was fired after the 2015 season, leading to brief uncertainty for Akers and his family.
“I happened to be in Ames for a work conference after Paul Rhoads was fired,” Barnes said. “We went over to the football complex to make sure his scholarship was still there. The coaches were out recruiting, but one of the operations guys sat down with us and said ‘Landen’s good.’ They honored the scholarship.”
Campbell has said he liked what he saw from Akers in offseason workouts. He red-shirted the player in 2016, then had him return 14 kickoffs as a freshman in 2017. In the following three years, Akers’ speed and instincts were put to all sorts of use as a receiver and special teams ace. He had 11 tackles last season.
“Honestly, my first year and the year I red-shirted, I didn’t really see that it would pay off,” Akers said. He hadn’t yet played, and the Cyclones were 3-9 both seasons. The four years he has played, though? Four winning seasons. Good times, capped by the best times as his career winds down.
Akers said his individual highlight is “I guess, probably reaching this year with this great group of seniors, even though it’s not my original class. It’s very satisfying being able to accomplish many of the things I’ve been trying to for the past five years.”
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Akers has been a second-team Academic All-Big 12 honoree the last three years. He’ll earn his master’s degree next spring.
“He’s had classes every semester including the summers since the fall of 2015,” Barnes said. “I’m grateful he’s been able to come out at the end healthy. His whole life is in front of him to do what he wants to do. He’s learned the skills.”
“When I think of Landen,” Campbell said, “I think of the glue of what makes our football program special and a young man that has really become the best version of himself that he can be in every way, shape, or form.”
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