On Tuesday night’s College Football Playoff rankings reveal, a program relatively new to the scene saw its logo on the screen next to the number 16. After compiling an 11–37 record from 2013–2016, Iowa State has risen to the status of Big 12 contenders.
Since head coach Matt Campbell took the reigns of the program in 2016, one particular position group has flourished, heavily contributing to the rise of the Cyclones: the wide receivers.
“All of us are capable of making that big play, and we all hold each other accountable of doing that,” wide receiver Deshaunte Jones said. “We always hold ourselves accountable so that it helps everyone around us from the offensive line to the quarterbacks to the linebackers to the tight ends.”
The rise of the receiving corps began last season with the primary corps of Allen Lazard, Hakeem Butler, Marchie Murdock and Trever Ryen combining for 2,620 yards and 23 touchdowns. The legacy has continued in 2018, but with some new faces. Now, Jones has become one of the receivers elevating his game and fulfilling the contributions made by last year’s seniors.
“Last year, the receiving corps embodied that ‘we’re just going to try to do whatever is possible to catch the ball,’” Jones said. “(Wide receivers coach Bryan) Gasser always talks about snatching the ball out of the air. Having that mentality, we just did the little things right and it’s been working out in our favor.”
Jones, a junior for the Cyclones, has seen a spike in his numbers over the course of the year after the departure of Lazard, Murdock and Ryen. With 35 receptions in eight contests, Jones is on pace to shatter his career-high in the category, while simultaneously developing the next batch of talent at the position.
“Deshaunte has been one of our leaders on offense this year,” Gasser said. “He had a great freshman year, but had to take a backseat as a sophomore last year when Trever Ryen stepped up. He didn’t let it faze him and just kept working. He’s now becoming one of our go-to guys and mentoring our younger players along the way.”
While Jones succeeds as a mentor to the younger wideouts, one can’t-miss 6-foot-6-inch junior continually sets the tone for Iowa State. Among all wide receivers with at least 20 catches, Hakeem Butler leads the FBS with an average of 22.7 yards per catch. But Butler’s prowess shows beyond the field, according to his peers.
“Hakeem brings the big play ability,” Jones said. “He’s a scorer, so adding that aspect to our arsenal really helps us. As a person, he plays with that chip on his shoulder. He’s always talking us up, always getting us hyped before the game. He’s pretty much the guy who starts it all. He makes a big play, everybody around him starts making big plays.”
What’s the secret to the outbreak of wide receivers up in Ames, Iowa? Chemistry. While the unit bolsters the team to new heights on the field, the bond they share extends beyond the gridiron.
“Throughout everything, even outside of football, we’re always trying to hang out with each other,” Jones said. “We always go out every Saturday after a workout or something. There will always be about 10 of us, going bowling or going paintballing. Whatever it is, we’re always together and trying to help each other out. That family bond is what helps us out throughout the season.”
With a tight bond and riding one of the most successful stretches in Cyclones history, Iowa State’s receivers travel together to Austin this Saturday, attempting to build on the excellence established by the unit just one season ago.