AMES, Iowa – It’s become rather evident that the future of Cyclone football is in solid shape with the outstanding play from a number of freshmen this season.
A total of 14 freshmen, including six first-year rookies, have seen action this season for the Cyclones, contributing to the team in their own unique way.
Iowa State’s trend of playing true freshmen has been minimal in recent years. In the previous three seasons (2013-15), only six first-year rookies saw action on the field (2013: Nigel Tribune; 2014: Allen Lazard, Colin Downing, Jauan Wesley; 2015: Carson Epps, Joshua Thomas).
With six players fresh out of high school (JaQuan Bailey, Jamahl Johnson, Deshaunte Jones, David Montgomery, Kene Nwangwu, Steve Wirtel) making contributions, the Cyclones are breaking that trend.
The success of these Cyclone future stars has also affirmed the incredible job Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell and his staff did corralling one of ISU’s best recruiting classes in their first two months on the job.
Here is a closer look at the accomplishments of ISU’s true freshmen competing this season.
JaQuan Bailey- DE, 6-3, 260, Jacksonville, Fla.
Bailey was one of ISU’s highest-rated recruits in the class of 2016 and it’s no shock he’s already found his way into the rotation. Bailey has played in all five games, recording four tackles and tying for the team lead in sacks with 2.0. His 2.0 sacks already rank in ISU’s freshman top-10.
Iowa State Freshman Sack Leaders
1. 6.0, James Reed, 1997
2. 5.0, Nick Leaders, 2002
3. 3.0, Jason Berryman, 2003
3.0, Darrin Trieb, 1986
3.0, Rashawn Parker, 2006
6. 2.5, Kevin DeRonde, 1998
7. 2.0, JaQuan Bailey, 2016
Jamahl Johnson- DL, 6-1, 318, Savage, Minn.
True freshmen playing in the interior defensive line is a rarity, but Johnson’s size and ability has already impressed the coaching staff enough to insert him into the rotation. He’s played in four games this season and appears to be a mainstay in the middle of ISU’s defensive front for years to come.
Deshaunte Jones- WR, 5-10, 175, Cincinnati, Ohio
Electric. It’s a simple word to describe what Jones displays at wide receiver this season. Jones has 10 receptions for 192 yards on the year, leading the team in yards per catch (19.2) and TD receptions (3). He’s scored three of his TDs in the last two games and the super frosh looks to be hitting his stride. His big-play ability has been instrumental to the Cyclone offense, leading the team in 40-yard receptions with three.
Iowa State Freshman Receiving Yards Leaders
1. 833, Todd Blythe, 2004
2. 593, Allen Lazard, 2014
3. 477, Darius Darks, 2008
4. 322, Robbie Minor, 1983
5. 311, R.J. Sumrall, 2005
6. 277, Andy Stensrud, 1997
7. 236, Geoff Turner, 1994
8. 232, Quenton Bundrage, 2012
9. 212, Jim Knuth, 1979
10. 192 Deshaunte Jones, 2016
Iowa State Freshman Receiving Touchdown Leaders
1. 9, Todd Blythe, 2004
2. 3, Deshaunte Jones, 2016
3, Allen Lazard, 2014
3, Andy Stensrud, 1997
3, Sedrick Johnson, 2008
David Montgomery- RB, 5-11, 222, Cincinnati, Ohio
Montgomery joins Jones as a future Cyclone star from Cincinnati. Montgomery has been superb in backing up the Doak Walker Award candidate Mike Warren at running back, rushing for 79 yards on 21 carries. He’s also caught two passes for 20 yards and scored his first career TD last week vs. Baylor. The last Cyclone star running back from Cincinnati? All-American Dwayne Crutchfield, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 1980 and 1981.
Kene Nwangwu- RB/KR, 6-1, 188, Frisco, Texas
Nwangwu has carried the ball 11 times for 37 yards this year, but this rookie has made the biggest impact on special teams. Nwangwu has already emerged as one of the best kickoff returners in the nation. His three 40-yard kickoff returns ranks second nationally and his 27.2 average is the third-best clip this season by a FBS freshman. Arguably the fastest player on the team, Nwangwu is capable of breaking one open at any time.
Iowa State Season Kickoff Return Average Leaders (minimum 10 returns)
1. 32.75, Luther Blue, 1974
2. 27.16, Kene Nwangwu, 2016
3. 26.37, Leonard Johnson, 2008
4. 26.06, Willie Jones, 1972
5. 26.04, Jeff Allen, 1968
6. 25.95, Jarvis West, 2011
7. 25.82, Jeff Allen, 1970
8. 25.75, Tom Busch, 1966
9. 25.72, Aaron Horne, 2011
10. 25.08 Tom Vaughn, 1963
Most 40+ Yard Kickoff Returns In FBS This Season
4- Kylen Towner, Western Kentucky
3- Kene Nwangwu, Iowa State
3- Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh
3- Darius Phillips, Western Michigan
3- Charles Nelson, Oregon
3- Khalfani Muhammad, California
Steve Wirtel- LS, 6-4, 214, Orland Park, Ill.
You are probably unfamiliar with the name Steve Wirtel, but that’s fine. Wirtel is ISU’s long snapper and his anonymity means he’s performed his important task successfully. Wirtel was considered one of the best long snappers in the class of 2016 and his position is in safe hands for the next three seasons.