Number two, we have the least amount of starters returning in the Big 12 Conference, and I'm excited to have that staff to be able to coach these young kids.
This year's senior class, we've got 16 seniors. And this is the first group that's come full cycle with us, fifth-year guys that we've recruited, that we've brought in and put out on the field. I think those 16 seniors are going to help us overcome the youth that will be out on the field for us. They're a very energetic group. They're a hardworking group, and they've got a passion for Iowa State University and playing our brand of football.
A little bit about our football team. We feel we have a returning starter in quarterback Sam Richardson. Our running back position is the deepest it's ever been and has, what we feel, pretty good quality.
On the defensive side of the ball, we'll lean on two people our two position groups, if you will, linebacker led by Jeremiah George, a fourth-year senior who played in between and side by side with the great A.J. Klein and Jake Knott a year ago. And our safety position, Jacques Washington, who's with me today, and Deon Broomfield, two players who were successful for us at Iowa State.
And special teams, we believe we've got the best punter in college football, Kirby Van Der Kamp, if you really analyze him and what he's done, pinning people inside the 20 with a very small amount of touchbacks. Simply stated, I think he's the best there is in college football.
We're going to take all this and approach a schedule that once again will be in the top ten, if not the top five, toughest in college football.
It's not that that necessarily concerns me, it's how this schedule unfolds. In our first six games, so the first half of the season, every preparation is different for us. For example, we have the first game coming out of training camp. Then we've got a 14-day preparation. Then we have a 12-day preparation in there, a 9-day preparation, a Thursday-to-Thursday game.
It isn't until the second half of the season that we're playing normal Saturday-to-Saturday football games, and that will be a challenge for our staff and our kids and one we look forward to.
Q. Paul, you talk about that sort of unorthodox schedule. I know some of that you sort of have to take because of the conference TV policy. Is that a tradeoff, some of those other games, just for national exposure that you feel like is good overall for the program?
COACH RHOADS: The national exposure without a doubt is fantastic for our university, for recruiting efforts, and so forth. Here in 2013, it's what it is. There's some trade in there, and you've got to trade the good for the bad, so to speak, but it is going to create challenges.
Q. As a follow-up, you had the big game year before last with Oklahoma State, moved to a Friday night, national television, paid off huge for you, one of the biggest wins in Iowa State history. Can you talk about not just what that victory did for you but win on a Friday night with all of America watching did for you.
COACH RHOADS: It was exactly that. It was a national stage that recruits, that fans of the game, that fans of Iowa State got to see in all parts of the country. What that really did for us is gave us instant national recognition.
I don't think some folks in some parts probably recognized Iowa State football as being capable of playing on the national stage, and then I would say, without a doubt, it's the biggest victory in the history of our program.
So now to walk in as a recruiter or just an ambassador of the university has been magnified several times fold with that victory.
Q. Paul, you mentioned losing all those starters, but at the places where you did lose starters, what position sort of gives you the most confidence coming out of spring?
COACH RHOADS: I'd say the defensive line where we're going to have to play by committee, which is the way we've always done -- as I look at those guys, this is a group that has talent. As we went through spring ball, we're probably the fastest, most athletic defense, if not team that we've put on the field, albeit it young.
I'd rather be coaching young talented guys than young slow guys or undersized guys. So I think that position, where we have to replace tackles as well as ends, is a position, as the year unfolds, where we can maybe progress the quickest.
Q. Obviously, Klein and Knott have been big parts of your program. How do you even think about trying to replace them?
COACH RHOADS: You can't. I mean, you don't replace those guys. You don't replace them from a leadership position. You don't replace them from what they've meant to our era of Iowa State football. They came in that very first fall, they played right away, and they progressed to be the guys that they were and will be remembered to be.
What you count on is that you're running your program the right way, and the development and the progress is able to step forward and take over. I think that's what will be the case with Jeremiah George. Was he a better player last year with those guys side by side him? Without a doubt. But his most productive game is the game where he stepped up when Jake wasn't out there on the field. And I have zero doubt that he's going to be that kind of player for us this year.
Jevohn Miller, who's been Jake's understudy, had his biggest amount of growth this spring. Why is that? Well, Jake's gone, and he realized now is his time and he stepped up and started playing better.
Doing things right in your program, which we very much feel that we are, I think you've got a chance to replace with people capable, but you don't ever replace two guys like that thoroughly and fully.
Q. With so many starters that you're looking to replace, what is it you're looking from everybody else who's fighting for those starting spots now in the fall to get yourself ready for that first game?
COACH RHOADS: I would say two things. Attention to detail and then the ability to execute because of that.
As stated in my comments, this group is energetic. They have a work ethic that I wouldn't challenge. They love to play the game. That's not the case with every football team I've been around, or maybe even the case with the other nine coaches in this league. This group loves to play.
Now, they've got to take that youth and energy and work ethic, and they've got to learn the details that they've got to master to go out and execute. And execution is still the name of the game. When you're like us and you want to climb from three victories in this league to the upper half of the league, it's about details, and it's about execution.
Q. Paul, what did Charlie Rogers do to earn his starting spot?
COACH RHOADS: Well, he hasn't necessarily earned that yet. We've got a lot of practices to go ahead of us. He's playing a couple positions, the cornerback spot and the nickel spot, as we try to do some things with that package.
Charlie is a big and tall corner. That's who I would prefer to play with, a guy with long levers like he has. He's really a coachable player, a guy like that improves at a quick rate, and he's done that as he's coming off his redshirt season, and he's just like -- like many of these redshirt freshmen are, they're anxious to get back on the field and play the game again.
Q. Almost every coach that's come through here today, they've had to field questions about recruiting, and I'm just looking at your -- the whole roster here, and I'm a little surprised. I mean, a lot of Florida kids. A lot of kids from Texas. Your fifth year right now, those recruiting trails that you've gone to get some of those kids, how much has it improved over the five years?
COACH RHOADS: It's improved quite a bit. We talked about the Oklahoma State victory and what that did for us as far as national recognition. You're walking into these high schools in a whole different light with victories like that.
We've had three victories in the last three years over ranked opponents. So when you start to accomplish things on the field, doors open more for you in the recruiting houses.
The State of Iowa does not produce enough players for us to just stay at home. We're going to thoroughly recruit the State of Iowa. We're going to hit the Midwestern states, but then we're going to go to states like the great state of Texas and Florida and California, and we're into the state of Georgia a little bit more. Places where you can go in the springtime and see kids and accurately evaluate the right fits for a place like ours, like Iowa State University.
As we've established relationships with that staff continuity I talked about, it only enhances your opportunities.
Q. The Thursday night game with Texas, having a marquee opponent on a Thursday game, Texas never plays a Thursday game unless it's Thanksgiving, how much does that help the exposure of your program?
COACH RHOADS: One of the last ones they did, they came to Ames and just whooped our butts on a Thursday night when we were undefeated and excited about playing that game. So we'd better play a lot better as we entertain the Longhorns in Ames again this year.
I always hope that Mack's going to be excited about being back in Ames and forget about the game, but he doesn't seem to do that.
It just adds to the ambience and environment in Jack Trice Stadium and our passionate fan base that I already believe our venue combined with our fan base is one of the best in college athletics. We're overcapacity in attendance. We've set single season attendance marks the last two years, both season ticket sales and attendance numbers.
That energy, that national exposure with a marquee opponent like Texas does nothing but upgrade every effort that we're making to improve our program.
Q. Paul, you're going to have the opportunity to coach your son as he walks onto the program. You didn't have a chance to do that with your own father. I just wonder if you could talk about the thoughts of being able to coach your son and if that will affect how you coach him, not having an opportunity with your dad.
COACH RHOADS: Really, really excited about it. For those of you that are aware, my father was a high school football coach for 30 years in the State of Iowa, and he was a member of the high school football Hall of Fame. But my mother didn't want her boys playing or going under that scrutiny that belongs with that relationship.
I was blessed that my son chose Iowa State and is going to join our program. It's going to be a complete different dynamic, and I've already seen him mature and grow in the five weeks that he's been a part of our summer training, and as a parent, that's a very proud moment to see that taking place.
In five short weeks, I've seen that growth. So to have him on the field, and quite honestly, to be under my watchful eye because I work with the specialists -- he's going to be a long snapper. It will have its trying moments, but I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun.
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