Iowa State's latest offer — Jordon Williams of Jersey Village in Houston — represents a changing shift in recruiting philosophy, the Cyclones no longer jamming a square linebacker or oversized safety into a hole at nickelback.
Instead, ISU is finding prospects tailor-made to play the position.
"In truth, we're recruiting 12 positions now on the defensive side of the ball," head coach Paul Rhoads said in a Signing Day interview with Cyclones.tv, regarding 2014 signee Reggan Northrup. "We weren't doing that two or three years ago but we are now really starting to identify a nickel type of linebacker. Could still play inside in the box but is going to play out in space a lot more."
Reached Thursday night, a few hours after a phone call with Rhoads and Tommy Mangino ended with a scholarship offer, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Williams echoed those thoughts to AllCyclones.com.
"They spoke about that and I can fill that spot," Williams said. "I played outside 'backer as a sophomore because we had a free safety who was pretty good, so I didn't play safety. But I played it as a junior, I'll probably play it next year."
Williams lists a 4.65 40-yard-dash. That speed, meshed with his size, make him an ideal candidate at nickel. Most schools employ a third cornerback to play nickel on passing downs — nickel implies a fifth defensive back on the field — but the Cyclones in Wally Burnham's 4-3 defense prefer a stronger tackler, so it's really like an extra safety.
"They said they liked my physicality and my aggressiveness, said they watched the highlights as a group with all the coaches," Williams said. "They felt like my physicality stood out."
Williams picked up his first offer from Utah on March 15 and has visited Baylor's practice this spring and Texas A&M's Junior Day. He'd like to get to Salt Lake City and Ames to check out the schools, but it might wait until an official visit in the fall.
"I'm gonna try (to visit this summer), I'm not sure," Williams said. "I'm gonna look more into Utah and Iowa State and see what each college is about so I can get out there and see what it's like."
The Cyclones landed five players from the Houston area in the 2014 class, and eight overall from the Lone Star State, and use their conference affiliation as a pitch, reminding recruits they'll be able to play twice a year in Texas. ISU played at Baylor and Texas Tech last season and this year will make trips to UT and TCU.
"My Mom kind of wants me to stay close to home," Williams said. "But to me it's not a big factor."