Walker Excelled After QB To LB Switch

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AMES, Iowa – The buzz during Iowa State spring football drills surrounded senior Joel Lanning when head coach Matt Campbell announced that the quarterback began taking the majority of his reps at linebacker.

Lanning, who has totaled 14 career starts at QB in his Cyclone career, spent his first four years as a signal-caller.

Preliminary reports from spring practice indicate Lanning is making a smooth transition to the defensive side of the field.

Making a switch from QB to LB isn’t common, but it has been accomplished before.

In fact, not only has it occurred at Iowa State, it was a resounding success. Just ask Derrick Walker, who was converted to a LB in 2000 after playing QB for the Cyclones in 1999.

Walker was glad he made the switch.

“It gave me an opportunity to compete, and that’s all I was really looking for at the time,” Walker said.

A native of Houston, Texas, Walker arrived at Iowa State in 1999 after a stellar two-year career at Blinn Junior College where he passed for nearly 1,000 yards. He was recruited as a QB by former ISU head coach Dan McCarney and his sights were set to win the job when he entered fall camp.

His competition that season was Sage Rosenfels, a junior who saw limited action his first two seasons while backing up Todd Bandhauer.

“It was really tight (the competition for the starting QB),” Walker said. “The coaches evaluated us on a daily basis in fall camp and it was kind of neck and neck all the way up until game week. They (coaching staff) charted everything as far as practice and scrimmages and things of that nature, and they let us know how we did afterward.”

The QB battle went down to the wire. McCarney made the decision to go with Rosenfels just a week prior to the season-opener vs. Indiana State.

Though promised he would still get snaps, Walker was devastated.

“I was told we’d both play regardless, but I didn’t feel okay with it,” Walker remembered. “I ended up being the backup, but I’d still have an opportunity to play.”

Walker served as a backup for Rosenfels in 1999, appearing in five games, completing 9-of-18 passes for 106 yards. The Cyclones showed signs of progress that year, and Rosenfels was a big part of ISU’s improvement.

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Walker as a QB in 1999. 

With Rosenfels securely locked into the starting spot for 2000, Walker was in limbo.

Ever the competitor, Walker desperately wanted to play. His immediate thought was to transfer until he had a meeting with McCarney.

The Cyclone coach didn’t want to give up on him and laid out some options. He mentioned he could switch positions to either wide receiver, tight end, safety or linebacker, noting that there was a spot open at outside linebacker.

Walker was reluctant, but after mulling it over, he thought it just might work.

It was a decision Walker does not regret.

“I was all for it, especially when he (Coach McCarney) told me it was my position to lose,” Walker said. “I had an opportunity to play in my last year and that’s all I really wanted.”

Like Lanning, Walker already had a linebacker build. Lanning is listed at 6-2, 230 pounds and Walker was a rugged 6-2, 235 pounds.

And also similar to Lanning, both didn’t have an aversion to contact. Their styles directing an offense included punishing runs in between the tackles if necessary.

All of this added up to a transition to defense that was much smoother than predicted.

“I felt like I picked it up pretty quick because of my experience playing quarterback,” Walker said. “If you understand football, quarterback is probably the most complex position to pick up just because you’re responsible for knowing so much about the entire offense. I felt more free and able to use my athletic abilities at linebacker. Getting myself physically able to wrestle the linemen, taking those blocks, and tackling the running backs coming out of the backfield was the more challenging part. I was more concerned about the physical attributes of it, as opposed to the mental aspects.”

Heading into the 2000 campaign, expectations were high. There was a quiet confidence within the locker room that this could be a special season, and Walker wanted to be a part of it.

Walker worked hard in fall camp and eventually shocked many by earning the starting nod at outside linebacker for the season-opener against Ohio.

“I wasn’t shocked about starting, because I expected to,” Walker said. “I was more shocked, I guess, being able to physically compete against other competition. Going against teammates compared to going against an opponent, it’s completely different. Once I got that game action and experience, I knew I could do it.”

Walker and his teammates were indeed in the midst of something special. The Cyclones ended the year by tying the school record for wins (9-3), culminating with the school’s first bowl victory with a 37-29 triumph over Pittsburgh in the Insight.com Bowl.

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Walker started 11 games at linebacker for Iowa State’s 2000 Insight.com Bowl champion team. 

Walker was instrumental of ISU’s success in 2000, starting 11 games and recording 61 tackles, the fourth-best total on the team.

Being a strong contributor on one of ISU’s greatest teams makes Walker proud.

“It was probably one of my most fulfilling accomplishments as a football player,” Walker remembered. “To actually help Iowa State win a bowl game, be a part of it as a starter, it was like a dream come true.”

After his Cyclone career was over, his limited experience at linebacker didn’t deter him from gaining interest from the NFL.

Walker signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles and spent much of the summer in camp with the team.

After getting cut by the Eagles, Walker had offers to compete in other professional leagues. However, he had a wife and young child to support and needed a more stable job.

“I was picked up by the Eagles after the NFL draft in 2001,” said Walker. “I went out to Philly for that summer and was there until the end of June when I got released. I had opportunities to play in the Arena League, but I had kids and a family and needed to make money at the time.”

Walker still follows Cyclone football and knows what Lanning is going through right now.

He has some advice for the Cyclone captain.

“My advice to Joel is to tell him that this could be the start of something big,” Walker added. “I was kind of shocked to get the opportunity to go with the Eagles. He needs to look at it like a new beginning. He might not see it now, but it will open up lot more doors than being a backup quarterback. I think he’s making a right decision for his career. He will have a lot more opportunities if he excels like I did. I just didn’t know it at the time.”

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Harger Launches Career At NASA

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AMES, Iowa – Mitchell Harger loves challenges. It’s in his DNA.

When looking at colleges to attend, Harger yearned for a challenge academically and athletically.

His unique confident and competitive nature guided Harger to Iowa State University for the sake of accomplishing two major goals he set out to achieve: Graduate in one of the most demanding majors at the school, aerospace engineering, and make an impact as a walk-on at a “power five” football program.

Harger fulfilled both goals at Iowa State, becoming one of its greatest success stories.

He is not in a position to sit back, relax and rest on his laurels, however. The profession he chose will not allow him that luxury.

Harger works for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a job he accepted a month after the 2016 football season ended. It’s high-stress, dynamic work, but Harger cherishes every day he walks into the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

“It was always kind of a dream that you never thought would be a reality,” Harger said. “I always thought it would be the coolest thing in the world if I could say, ‘Hey, I work for NASA.’ After all the opportunities kind of presented themselves, and things started lining up, I remember stopping to think right around my second interview, ‘holy crap, I’m about to get a position at NASA!’ It is kind of a surreal feeling, especially now that I’m down here.”

The 2012 Alburnett (Iowa) High School class valedictorian has an official title of Extravehicular Activity Flight Controller (EVA) for NASA. Harger’s responsibilities include training astronauts and ensuring the safety of an astronaut’s spacesuit.

He fully understands the importance of his daily duties.

“Whenever the astronaut steps outside the international space station, goes to work on the space station or eventually, the astronaut would land on the moon again, or hopefully on Mars, I’m in charge of their spacesuit,” Harger said. “I’m in charge of everything the astronaut is doing task-wise and I’m basically in charge of their safety out there, because every time an astronaut steps outside in the vacuum of space, the harsh environment of space presents a 1 in 6,000 chance of dying, whether it’s from micrometeoroids hitting them, suit malfunctions, or whatever it may be. It’s a very high intensity, high stress environment.”

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ISU WR coach Bryan Gasser and RB coach Lou Ayeni visit Mitchell Harger at NASA.

Harger could have had a head start on his career like his fellow classmates who graduated in the spring of 2016. He spent four years as a walk-on on the football team and then underwent shoulder surgery after an injury in the 2016 spring game.

He earned his degree. He gave his all for Cyclone football. Time to move on, right?

Not Harger.

He had one more goal to check off.

“Honestly, when I was on the scout team, I knew I would eventually get my chance,” Harger said. “The only time I ever doubted my decision making was after I graduated in aerospace engineering and I decided to come back for that fifth year. It was during fall camp. My shoulder was killing me and I could be starting my career. It kind of dawned on me, ‘Why am I here?’ I then remembered I had unfinished business with the football team and realized I was devoted to the football team. I was going to finish this. My motto was always to finish what you started and that’s how I’m going to be for the rest of my life.”

The decision to attend graduate school and compete for his fifth and final season for the Cyclones ended up being a script Hollywood would covet.

The running back was an outstanding prep football player.

He was the Class 1A Player of the Year in 2011 after rushing for 2,716 yards and 40 touchdowns at tiny Alburnett High School. However, at only 5-10, Harger had only a few offers to continue his football career at the next level.

This didn’t bother Harger, however. He was going to Iowa State, one of the best engineering schools in the nation, and he was determined to score a touchdown for the Cyclones.

Nothing was going to stop him.

The day Harger’s number was called is something dreams are made of, but it didn’t happen overnight.

Harger toiled on ISU’s scout team for four seasons, earning a spot on special teams in his redshirt junior season. He won the Outstanding Walk-On Player Award at the postseason banquet that season.

Harger’s position coach at ISU for three seasons, Lou Ayeni, observed his determination up close.

“Nothing shocks me about Mitchell,” said Ayeni, Iowa State’s Running Game Coordinator and Associate Head Coach. “I watched what he did, how he led our running back room and how he carried himself. There was something special about Mitchell. He’s got it.”

Harger wasn’t shy about letting Ayeni know he could count on him in a game. He would strategically sidle up to Ayeni at practice and games, always in his sightline, displaying bravado and exuding confidence.

“I’ve had guys faster, stronger and bigger, but nobody was more determined than Mitchell,” Ayeni said. “Every practice, every game he would come up to me and say, ‘I’m ready when you need me. I’m ready.’”

On Nov. 12, 2016, Harger was indeed ready.

The Cyclones were in a dogfight with Kansas in Lawrence in a game where both teams were seeking their first Big 12 victory. ISU was down 24-16 late in the third quarter and freshman running back David Montgomery needed a break after taking a hit to his quadricep on the first play of the series.

Looking for a replacement, Ayeni spotted Harger. He sent him in.

Getting the signal, Harger furiously strapped on his helmet and darted onto the field.

His time was now.

“It was kind of like your football life flashing before your eyes,” Harger remembered. “Coach Lou said I was going in and I went on a full sprint out there. I started thinking, ‘Okay, this is what I went through three years of the scout team for. Why I stuck out shoulder surgery and why I decided to come back even though I graduated with an aerospace engineering degree.’”

Harger’s first rush went for 16 yards. His third carry goes for 17 yards. Eleven more yards by Harger, and suddenly the reserve gave ISU first-and-goal at the KU four-yard line.

All Harger envisioned now was the goal line.

Now third-and-goal at the one, it appeared Harger would realize his dream. However, another setback crept in. An illegal shift cost the Cyclones five yards, resulting in a third-and-goal situation from six yards out.

Harger thought his window of opportunity was over. This down and distance is typically a passing situation, and Harger was keenly aware of this fact.

“We finally get down to the four-yard-line and I’ve got the goal line just staring at you,” Harger recollected. “Then we get the penalty and we get pushed back. It just seemed like another punch, another kick that I had to get through.”

Much to Harger’s surprise, however, the next play call was for him. He received the handoff from quarterback Jacob Park and bolted up the middle untouched for a six-yard touchdown scamper.

“They called another running play and finally I got across the goal line,” Harger beamed. “I just felt sudden relief. I said to myself, ‘I did it. I made it. This is for my team. This is for my family and all my friends who supported me.’”

Elation set in. The roar was audible from the press tower.

“To finally get that carry and have it all play in slow-motion and to finally wham it in, it was just an incredible feeling,” Harger said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be stopped.”

Harger had eight carries for 58 yards and a TD in his lone series of action during the game. His score was the impetus for ISU’s 31-24 come-from-behind win over KU.

As he left the field victorious, he found his family in the bleachers and embraced in a group hug that seemed to last an eternity.

You could not find a happier person on Earth.

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Mitchell Harger rejoices with his family after the Kansas game.

Ayeni was just as proud.

“I have coached a long time, but Mitchell’s performance that day was one of the most rewarding and special moments I have ever been associated with,” Ayeni boasted.

Harger is at peace now.

His football career is over and his job is top priority. He takes pride in it. He’s aware he is among a select group of former Iowa State engineering graduates who have made significant contributions to NASA.

Like Steve Bales, who, as a flight controller, is credited with making a critical last-minute decision to not abort and continue procedures for Apollo 11’s lunar landing in 1969.

Harger strives to be in that same situation someday.

“Right now I’m just a flight controller,” Harger said. “I’m eventually going to become an instructor and then eventually, my goal is to get to the control room. That is where all those big shots are. That is the biggest goal right now. I can’t picture a better job out there for me.”

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Harger’s experience competing for the Cyclones has definitely provided him with real-life skills.

“We are graded every day and thrown into stressful situations,” Harger said. “Playing football for five years had me prepared for this. Honestly, it’s a great fit for football players. It’s a lot of high intensity stuff. Every single day there’s something new and something exciting to look at.”

Ayeni visited Harger at NASA and received a tour of the massive complex over spring break. It was a great time for Ayeni and his pupil to reminisce. It also was a great opportunity for Ayeni to reflect on a wonderful success story.

“It is incredible to see how successful Mitchell is and it means a lot to our program,” Ayeni said. “We all know that winning is important, but to watch people like Mitchell reach their full potential in life is just as equally rewarding.”

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Carleton & Co. Take In Ames

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When Chatham, Ontario, Canada native Bridget Carleton committed to Iowa State, the Carleton family was inundated with requests from family and friends to go visit Ames, Iowa to cheer her on.

“We had tons of people from Chatham who were like, ‘Oh if you ever go, we want to go,’” Carrie Carleton, Bridget’s mother, said.

After many trips of packing a van full of friends and family, the Carleton’s decided it was time to do one bigger. They rounded up 35 family and friends from Chatham and Michigan, rented a charter bus and drove down to Ames, Iowa to watch Bridget and the Cyclones take on West Virginia on Feb. 18.

The fan bus left at 4 p.m. on Friday from Canada and drove straight to Davenport, which also happens to be the hometown of head coach Bill Fennelly, to spend the night. The drive was over 10 hours to Ames, but the group had no trouble enjoying the ride. They played plenty of games, including some Iowa State women’s basketball inspired trivia, so everyone was well versed before they arrived at their destination – Hilton Coliseum.

The group was not hard to spot once they arrived. Sitting behind the basket on the home bench side of the court, the Carleton crew donned matching gold t-shirts, which were designed by rider Tim Regan. The t-shirt featured a stencil Iowa State logo surrounded by a maple leaf, the unofficial national symbol of Canada. The back featured a basketball with Carleton’s number “21” on the inside.

“Every bus trip needs a t-shirt,” Carrie stated. “It’s just part of the rules.”

The clan witnessed the Cyclones take on and defeat West Virginia, 68-63. Carleton gave her followers plenty to talk about when they returned north of the border. The sophomore played, tough and inspired basketball, helping guide ISU’s second half run, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and a career-high-matching four blocked shots.

Following the basketball game, the group then got to see the rest of Bridget Carleton’s home away from home. They saw campus, Ames and the Iowa State basketball facilities. It was a full Cyclone experience.

d8t_7387 “You know what, it really truly reminds me of our own hometown,” Louise Kaniecki, who joined the bus trip after also having visited Ames last season with the Carleton’s, observed. “The old buildings, and the character of the whole place is amazing. And [as far as] Hilton, it’s hard to beat that. For her to be able to play here all the time is amazing. It’s an amazing opportunity for Bridget, and I know she appreciates every single minute that she’s here.”

For the Carleton family, the bus trip marked one of many trips over the last year-and-a-half to Ames. The two have made the trek to Ames as many times as they could.

“When you watch your kid play for so many years, and she moves far away, it’s hard,” Carrie said. “So we come as often as we can. And whether it’s a long weekend, or we take a day off, we come as often as we can, and obviously watch every game that we can.”

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Cyclone Super Bowl Memories

AMES, Iowa – It’s Super Bowl weekend and time for fans across the nation to revel in what has become one of the greatest spectacles in sports.

Iowa State has had its share of players and coaches who have been a part of Super Bowl memories. Listed below are five fun facts of Cyclone Super Bowl history.

Keith Krepfle- The First Touchdown

Iowa State Hall-of-Famer Keith Krepfle made history in Super Bowl XV (January 25, 1981) when he scored the only touchdown for the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Oakland Raiders. It marked the first time a player from a college in Iowa scored a touchdown in a Super Bowl. Krepfle, who is one of the greatest tight ends in Iowa State history, caught 94 passes for 1,378 yards and 15 touchdowns in his Cyclone career (1971-73). His NFL career was just as impressive, recording 152 receptions for 2,425 yards in 97 career starts. Another former Cyclone tight end, Dan Johnson, became the second collegian from Iowa to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl. Johnson was a member of the Miami Dolphin Super Bowl XIX (January 20, 1985) team. His first quarter two-yard touchdown catch from Dan Marino gave the Dolphins a 10-7 lead. It was the Dolphins’ only touchdown in a 38-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

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Players from a College in Iowa to score a TD in a Super Bowl
Keith Krepfle (Iowa State)            Super Bowl XV (Philadelphia Eagles, 1981)
Dan Johnson (Iowa State)             Super Bowl XIX (Miami Dolphins, 1985)
Tim Dwight (Iowa)                           Super Bowl XXXIII (Atlanta Falcons, 1999)
Kurt Warner (UNI)                           Super Bowl XXXVI (St. Louis Rams, 2002)

Otto Stowe- The Perfect Season

Otto Stowe was a member of one of the most famous teams in NFL history, and he has a Super Bowl ring to prove it. Stowe was a wide receiver on the 1972 Miami Dolphins undefeated (17-0) squad. The Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII (Jan 14, 1973), 14-7, to cap off the NFL’s last perfect season. Stowe caught 13 passes during the 1972 campaign and he proudly displayed his Super Bowl ring when he was enshrined into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008. He was the first Cyclone to be on a Super Bowl-winning team, earning rings with the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII and VIII. Stowe led the Big Eight in receptions (59), receiving yards (822) and touchdown catches (6) as a senior in 1970.

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Iowa State Hall-of-Famer Otto Stowe was a member of two Super Bowl champion teams with the Miami Dolphins (Super Bowl VII and VIII).

Cyclone Coaching Tree

When the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos met in Super Bowl XLVIII (Feb. 2, 2014), the Iowa State football program gained some national notoriety. The reason being that both head coaches – Pete Carroll (Seattle) and John Fox (Denver) – spent time early in their careers as assistant coaches at Iowa State. Carroll was on Earle Bruce’s final staff in 1978 and Fox was the defensive coordinator on Jim Criner’s 1984 Cyclone staff.

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Former Cyclone Player Directs Defense In Super Bowl

Rod Rust is a Webster City, Iowa native who lettered for the Cyclones in 1947-48, starting at center in 1948. Rust went on to an outstanding coaching career, including stints with eight NFL teams. He was the first former Cyclone player to coach in a Super Bowl as the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX (January 26, 1986) vs. the Chicago Bears. Rust later became the head coach of the Patriots during the 1990 season.

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Rod Rust was Iowa State’s starting center in 1948. He was the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

Rookie Wins It All

Iowa State All-American Kelechi Osemele became the third Cyclone to play on a Super Bowl-winning team as the starting left guard for the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII (Feb. 3, 2013). The Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31. Osemele joined Stowe (Super Bowl VI, VII; Miami Dolphins) and Karl Nelson (Super Bowl XXI; New York Giants) in the elite club as Super Bowl winners. Osemele was one of two rookies to start for the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

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Iowa State All-American Karl Nelson won a Super Bowl as a starting offensive lineman for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI.

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Morris’ Record Defies Logic

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Yesterday afternoon in Nashville, Monté Morris took a couple dribbles left, looked to his right and as is customary with the point guard, delivered a perfect pass directly into the shooter’s pocket as Matt Thomas ripped the nets for his fourth three of the game. That assist broke a record that had stood for 31 years as he passed Jeff Hornacek for first on Iowa State’s all-time assist chart. Morris, who has 666 assists, has not only dished out more assists than anyone in Cyclone history, he’s done so while taking what can almost be described as ridiculous care of the basketball.

What we’ve all had the pleasure of witnessing the last four seasons just isn’t something you see very often. A true playmaker with an uncanny ability and pride in protecting the ball, Morris is a pass first point guard. I once asked him about his low turnovers. He explained that he always played up a level against older kids and that if he turned the ball over he’d find himself on the bench. So Monté just didn’t turn it over. Simple, right? Not really.

Since the 1993-94 season, 74 NCAA Division I players have recorded more than 660 career assists. Not one player from a top-six conference has done so while turning the ball over fewer times than Morris (146 turnovers).

The closest player from one of the top-six leagues to have 660 assists was Notre Dame’s Tory Jackson, who finished his playing career in 2010 with 694 assists and 257 turnovers.

His 4.56 career assist-to-turnover ratio is going to absolutely shatter the NCAA Division I career record of 3.45 that was held by Pittsburgh’s James Robinson (2013-16) heading into this season.

Career Assist-To-Turnover Ratio (Since 2000)
Monté Morris, Iowa State, 4.56
James Robinson, Pittsburgh, 3.45
Cardwell Johnson, UAB, 3.15
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State, 3.08
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin, 3.01

Of this group, only Jordan Taylor (1,533) scored more points than Morris (1,460) has currently. Morris will almost surely top that mark. He also has more assists than anyone on that list.

Morris Assist Notes

  • Morris has 13 career games with 10 or more assists…the rest of the active Big 12 have a combined EIGHT 10-assist games.
  • In games with 10 assists, Morris owns an 8.7 (139 assists/16 turnovers) assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Morris is the second player in school history to record four 100-assist seasons (Gary Thompkins, 1985-88).
  • Since 2007-08, no player in Division I has posted four seasons with at least 130 assists and less than 60 turnovers…Morris has a chance to accomplish that.
  • Morris is just the second player in school history (Hornacek) and third in Big 12 history (Aaron Miles and Kirk Hinrich, Kansas) with 1,000 points, 600 assists and 200 steals…only four Division I players since 2010 have posted 1,500 points, 700 assists and 200 steals.
  • Via points (1,460) and assists (1,632), Morris has accounted for 3,092 points in his career.

Morris Career Games (# of Turnovers)
Turnovers          Games
0                        44
1                         36
2                        30
3                        9
4+                     5

Thanks to the help of our statistician, Chris Andringa, here is a breakdown of Morris’ career assists:

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Morris in his first career game against UNC Wilmington. He had four assists and an uncanny three turnovers. Morris had just 25 turnovers in the next 35 games.

First Assist: Nazareth Mitrou-Long, 11/10/13 vs. UNC Wilmington
100th Assist: Dustin Hogue, 2/26/14 vs. West Virginia
200th Assist: Dustin Hogue, 1/6/15 vs. Oklahoma State
300th Assist: Bryce Dejean-Jones, 3/13/15 vs. Oklahoma
400th Assist: Hallice Cooke, 12/30/15 vs. Coppin State
500th Assist: Deonte Burton, 2/20/16 vs. TCU
600th Assist: Deonte Burton, 12/5/16 vs. Omaha
666th Assist: Matt Thomas, 1/28/17 vs. Vanderbilt

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Most Field Goals
135 to Georges Niang
98 to Naz Mitrou-Long
73 to Matt Thomas

Most 3-Point Field Goals
63 to Naz Mitrou-Long
58 to Matt Thomas
52 to Georges Niang

Most Two-Point Field Goals
83 to Georges Niang
52 to Jameel McKay

Most Total Points
322 – Georges Niang
259- Naz Mitrou-Long
204- Matt Thomas

Most Consecutive Assists To One Player
6 to Georges Niang (2/2/15-2/7/15-Two Games)

Most Assists To One Player in One Game
7 to Naz Mitrou-Long vs. Chattanooga (11/23/15)

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Johnson Part Of Strong Coaching Tree

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Iowa State fans exuded unparalleled excitement when news broke that Troy Davis was chosen as a 2016 inductee for the College Football Hall of Fame.

Davis’ honor is the pinnacle of college football. To prove the difficulty of joining this prestigious club, the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist is just one of two Cyclone players in the Hall of Fame.

Iowa State defensive tackle Jamahl Johnson, who just finished his freshman season in 2016, understands the significance of the College Football Hall of Fame. His grandfather, Willie Jeffries, was a 2010 inductee into the CFB Hall of Fame as a coach.

Jeffries’ legacy is an important piece of his family genealogy.

“I really didn’t know much about my grandpa when I was younger, but as I got older I did,” Johnson said. “Talking to my mom (Jeffries’ daughter) and my dad (who played for him) I started to understand how important he was.”

Jeffries was truly a college football coaching pioneer. After a successful run as a head coach in the high school ranks and stints as an assistant at North Carolina A&T and Pittsburgh, Jeffries received his first head coaching gig at his alma mater, South Carolina State, in 1973.

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Willie Jeffries was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

From 1973-78, South Carolina State was the premier team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Jeffries led the Bulldogs to a 50-13-5 record, five MEAC titles and a black college national title in 1976. Two of his star players at SCSU were future College Football Hall-of-Famers Harry Carson and Donnie Shell.

“I am extremely close with my grandpa,” Johnson said. “We used to talk every Sunday.”

In 1979, Jeffries opened a door that had been firmly shut since major colleges began sponsoring football teams in the late 1800s. Wichita State was looking for a new head coach and Jeffries’ name was high on the list of candidates. He took the job, becoming the first African-American to be a head coach at a predominantly white Division I (FBS) school.

It was a step that paved the way for future successful black coaches in college football. You can learn more about Jeffries’ important contributions to college football in this documentary.

“My mom has really tried to stress his accomplishments, especially since she moved a lot with my grandpa going from college to college when she was younger,” Johnson said. “They told me a lot about the struggles and what he went through to get to where he was. He made a lot of great strides in doing that.”

Johnson’s family coaching tree definitely begins with Jeffries, but it also branches out to his father, Jimmie, who is currently the tight ends coach for the New York Jets.

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Jimmie Johnson is the tight ends coach for the New York Jets. 

Jimmie Johnson, who played tight end in the NFL for 10 years (1989-98), also coached the tight ends for the Minnesota Vikings from 2007-14.

Growing up with a father in the coaching profession, Johnson fully understood the long nights his dad spent at the office.

“It is tough, but having my mom there to support me was really helpful,” Johnson said. “She’s been at every football game I’ve ever played in. My dad would make it to as many games he could, usually on a bye week. It was a little hard at first but we kind of got used to it. That is his occupation. We had to get used to it because he’s paying the bills and everything.”

Johnson is hoping the two coaching mentors in his family can make it to a game next year, because there will be a great chance he will be on the field making plays. He already proved his potential as one of six true freshmen to play in a game in 2016.

Johnson has a keen sense of the valuable football resource he has in his family.

“My dad calls me before every game before he goes to meetings,” Johnson said. “He’ll check up on me. We’ll talk for about 10 minutes to tell me to get off the ball, things like that. I’ve learned a lot about football from him.”

 

 

 

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Remembering Larry Carwell

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Larry Carwell was an exceptional Iowa State football player from 1964-66. He was also a huge success as a professional, playing six seasons (1967-72) in the AFL for the Houston Oilers and New England Patriots, collecting 14 career interceptions along the way.

Today is a day we need to remember Carwell for something besides gridiron success, however.

On this day 33 years ago, Carwell lost his life serving his country.

Carwell entered the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in 1974 shortly after retiring from the pros. He soon became a special agent for the DEA, and on Jan. 9, 1984, Carwell, along with four Air Force servicemen, died in a helicopter crash during an anti-narcotics mission.

Carwell was sent to Miami with the task of stopping drug runners in the Bahamas. During the 1980s, cocaine smuggling was at its peak and the Bahamas was a key link in the smuggling chain.

Just off the coast of the Bahamas, his helicopter developed complications. The aircraft suffered from a dual engine flame out and crashed into the sea. All five bodies were never found.

Carwell was 39 years old.

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A native of Campbell, Ohio, Carwell lettered three years at Iowa State as an outstanding defensive back. He tallied 127 tackles and picked off seven passes in his career. On Oct. 8, 1966, Carwell picked off two Kansas passes and returned the interceptions for 123 return yards. His interception return yardage that day is still a Cyclone school record.

Carwell started over 50 games in the AFL during his distinguished professional career. He had five interceptions for the Patriots in 1971 and returned two interceptions for touchdowns in his career.

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Unlike today’s professional athletes, players in the 1970s were underpaid. They needed a second career to survive, and Carwell was determined and ready for another challenge.

Anybody who knew Carwell would quickly tell you about his love of children and his hatred for drugs. He was sickened how drugs filtered down to kids and ruined their lives. He was going to join the fight and the DEA was his calling.

Carwell was stationed in Houston with the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston Field Division soon after becoming a special agent. He was a Sunday school teacher for a local Baptist church and active in drug prevention and sports programs in the community.

It was important for Carwell to set an example for his wife, Lural, and his two children, Larry Jr., Shauntel.

Without a doubt, he did just that, and his legacy is still visible today.

Carwell posthumously received the Association’s Medal of Valor in 1984 and the Houston office where he worked was dedicated as the Carwell Wallace Building in 1997. His high school, Campbell Memorial, also sponsors a $300 per year scholarship in his name to college-bound athletes to this day.

The world could definitely use more Larry Carwells.

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