It was a free-for-all Sunday at Iowa State's Media Day. White polo-clad assistant coaches sat on a sideline bench, waiting to be called up from the bullpen for an interview, while players, wearing their cardinal uniforms, ambled around in groups for pictures. The freshmen, for the most part, stayed under a big tent munching on watermelon.
Here are 25 things I learned from the day. Thanks to Iowa State's media relations team, led by Mike Green, for the help. It was a productive time.
- A little news: I reported redshirt freshman wideout Bryan Ajumobi is off the team. Ajumobi was on the depth chart as an X receiver and is coming off a good spring. He ran well at Monday's practice. The Cyclones wouldn't reveal the cause for Ajumobi's exit and the wideout didn't immediately respond to comment. Discuss in the Forum
- Anticipating a role as a starting nose guard, Devlyn Cousin gained at least 15 pounds this summer, mostly off tuna and teriyaki chicken sandwiches from Subway. Cousin worked with a few teammates part-time at a construction site in Des Moines and there was a Subway franchise nearby, so he'd go frequently.
"I'd get the chicken and the tuna mixed, so it'd be a big, big sandwich," Cousin told me.
Wonder what Jessica Simpson thinks about all that.
- I ran into Cory Morrissey in late-April at Iowa State's football facilities and he gave me grief for rating him No. 14 on my Top 50 list of the Cyclones' best players for 2014, two spots behind since-departed JUCO safety Devron Moore. LOL. At the time I defended myself to Morrissey, saying that his sack numbers weren't indicative of a top-notch defensive end, and the joke's continued from there. At a football camp in July, the Cyclones' 2013 highlights were playing on the big screen at Jack Trice Stadium, and Morrissey moseyed over to me and, tongue-in-cheek, said, "Hey, Trey, check out all those sacks."
It's obvious now I way under-rated Morrissey. His physical growth this offseason has been tremendous and word is he picked up where he left off in the spring at Saturday's scrimmage, making several plays behind the line of scrimmage. Morrissey was extremely busy Sunday and I didn't get to speak to him much, but I walked past him on my way out and he smiled, shook my hand and said, "Bump me up."
- I asked Allen Lazard if the media attention he received at Urbandale High had helped him in Ames.
"I just play football," he said.
So then I asked Lazard what he thought being one of the top headlines on the team and a much-requested interview, despite his status as a lowly freshman.
"I don't take it to heart," he said, then adding: "I just focus on football."
- In two interviews since getting to Ames, Lazard's come off as rather dry, but having covered his recruitment since last fall, I'm confident it's because he doesn't want to ruffle any feathers or come off as a threat to the older receivers. He's a bright, quick guy who's not afraid to make fun of himself: He told me and another reporter in January he slept with a stuffed lion, named Simba, and didn't mind if anyone wrote about it.
- A nine-touchdown season got Quenton Bundrage on the cover of a regional preseason magazine but didn't do much for his all-conference prospects. And of the 40-plus players on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top wide receiver, Bundrage is nowhere to be found.
"I do feel like I'm one of the best in the Big 12 but I'm not surprised at all," Bundrage told me. "I see it as motivation. It is what it is. I'm looking to have a way better season than I did last year; I feel like last year was a mediocre season. I could've done better."
- Bundrage has set his sights on double-digit touchdowns and 90 receptions, which would surely draw the further attention of pro scouts.
Bundrage was eligible to go pro after his redshirt sophomore 2013 season and didn't even think about it. Might be a different story after 2014, but there's a ways to go.
"I've never really sat down to think about it, but if the time came I'd really have to," Bundrage said. "Right now I'm not thinking about it too much because we're still in fall camp."
- The Cyclones moved Justin Webster from linebacker to running back this offseason. A redshirt freshman, Webster could be in line to be Iowa State's fullback in short-yardage, goal-to-go scenarios, but he's a little dinged up right now. Rob Standard would be Iowa State's fullback if the season began tomorrow.
- True freshmen running backs Michael Warren and Martinez Syria call themselves Thunder and Lightning, Warren providing the flash and Syria bringing the hammer.
"I came in here working and trying to get a spot," Warren said. "Maybe play early and see what I can do."
Added Syria: "I'm the same. They'll need bigger backs once Aaron leaves and DeVondrick's gone. We've learned from them, day by day."
- Warren and Syria met for the first time when they enrolled this summer and have quickly become best friends, even though they don't room together.
"We're always together," Warren said with a laugh. The two share mutual interests in fishing and TV. Warren was a late commitment from Lawton, Okla., and Syria is from the Houston area. There's no Texas-vs-Oklahoma rivalry between them — the two states are supremely unfond of each other — as Syria grew up in Louisiana rooting for the Bayou Bengals and Warren bounced around in a military family.
- Paul Rhoads' thoughts on SAM backer Drake Ferch were as much a lauding of Ferch as a referendum of the staff's issues with incumbent starter Jared Brackens.
"He does things right," Rhoads said of Ferch. "He's extremely coachable and doesn't repeat mistakes because of that. He plays very hard. He is tough and has plenty of speed. All of those things go into why he is playing with the ones."
- I asked defensive coordinator Wally Burnham if Brackens listed as No. 2 on the depth chart is merely to serve as a wake-up call, or if he really thinks Ferch will be the starter in the season opener?
"We're gonna keep evaluating them," Burnham said. "I wouldn't have any problem if he was the starter. Jared is more athletic, but Drake's always in the right place."
- When asked in his press conference what would constitute a successful season, Rhoads pointed to a bowl victory, which he's done once in Ames, in 2009.
"I don't think there's a lot of people in this room who think that's possible," Rhoads said of the media's outlook of Iowa State.
- Iowa State's schedule is unquestionably difficult, with the nation's No. 1-ranked FCS team NDSU in the opener and then Kansas State the next week, but it's a lot better than 2013.
"This is a family presser, but last year's stunk," Rhoads said.
The Cyclones opened the season on a Saturday, then were off, then played Iowa on a Saturday. The Cyclones were off again before playing at Tulsa on a Thursday. On Oct. 3, Iowa State hosted Texas on a Thursday. The following Saturday, the team played at Texas Tech. That's essentially two wasted bye weeks, plus all the Thursday games prevented the team from getting into a normal rhythm until mid-October, at which point it was too late.
- I've always admired the open-field tackling ability of little Sam E. Richardson, Iowa State's 5-foot-8 (generously) cornerback who's competing for a starting spot.
"In high school my coach was on me about tackling, because I really hated it, always being undersized," Richardson told me. "I was an ankle-biter, to say. In college, that's on thing I've got to do to be able to stay on the field: Be able to get guys down."
- Alton Meeks, Iowa State's starting middle linebacker, was committed to Cincinnati for a time as a quarterback, which he played at Dr. Phillips High down in Orlando. A broken leg altered his career path, as did an unstoppable gain of height and weight.
"I figured not many people would want a 240-pound quarterback, so I might as well go play linebacker," Meeks told me. "Not everyone can be Joel Lanning."
- Meeks, who doesn't throw the football much unless it's just messing around with Iowa State's Sam B. Richardson, is still trying to picker up the finer nuances of playing linebacker, which I'll touch on more in a story tomorrow.
"At first it was really difficult," Meeks said. "I don't think I was very good at all when I first got here. I was bad, in fact."
- Speaking of 'ole Sam B. Richardson, Iowa State's fourth-year junior quarterback cracked up a few reporters after I asked him if he was going to make more of an effort to slide and avoid the big hits that ailed him in 2013.
"I'm still gonna try to make plays," Richardson said with a smile. "But it's definitely just knowing when to make them and when not to. That'll continue to grow for me. … I was just trying to do too much and trying to make a play when it wasn't there and that's a part of being young."
That's the big thing the coaching staff is stressing with Richardson: Do your thing when you run, but just don't run as much.
"Standing in the pocket and trying to make more throws rather than getting out and running," he said. "Taking hits off me and getting the ball to those athletic guys out there."
- Richardson admitted last season was "a nightmare" and his confidence was shot by the end of the campaign, which saw him go from starter to mutilated backup.
"Right now [the confidence] is as high as it's ever been," he said.
- D'Vario Montgomery has the build of a natural split end but told me that when the staff looks to get him on the field with Quenton Bundrage, it's Montgomery who's sliding to flanker.
"Q is a spectacular player," Montgomery said. "I'd say if it really came to it, him and E.J. Bibbs will probably be the face of Iowa State, on offense anyway. I'm more concerned about playing the Z (flanker) when the season comes around. (Quenton) is doing a great job at X. I play wherever I fit in. … It's a lot different, a lot more running required, maybe a little more motion than what's required at X, but all in all I think that position gets just as much shine as X."
- I was next-level surprised to learn from Rhoads that fourth-year junior Darian Cotton was pushing T.J. Mutcherson, the athletic freak, at strong safety, but good for Cotton, who I wasn't sure would ever "get it" defensively. Or it's a way to keep a pressure point on Mutcherson, who the staff needs to remain focused.
- As explained by Dale Pierson, the biggest adjustment from the JUCO ranks to the Big 12 is the intensity of the coaching staff and the speed of practice.
"A lot, lot faster," Pierson said.
Defensive ends coach Stan Eggen is helping Pierson make a quicker turn to the quarterback.
"He's working with me on flipping my hips on the pass rush instead of just straight speed-rush," Pierson said, demonstrating the technique. "Collapsing the pocket and flipping my hips, to go over the (offensive) tackle. That's really it."
- Eggen understands the attention, when it's not on Morrissey, focuses on JUCO ends Pierson, Trent Taylor and Gabe Luna, but it's redshirt sophomore Mitchell Meyers who's held a starting job since the spring.
"Mitch is a good player," Eggen told me. "He's gonna be a sophomore so a young guy that hasn't played as much and hasn't played as much as Cory. We expect good things from Mitch — he's a talented young man. He's been more of a spot player than a starter."
- Thought it was interesting that Mark Mangino turned a question on its head and said, among anything else, he was more concerned with paying back his end of the bargain at Iowa State. So much of the hubbub with Mangino is how the players are picking up his system, but, as he said it: "I don't want to let them down."
- Paul Rhoads says he feels pressure on the job, but it's not from any outside sources — not from athletics director Jamie Pollard, not from the fan base, not from his wife, Vickie.
"It comes from me," Rhoads said. "We're looking to win every game we take the field for. We're looking to improve on a daily basis. We've got a loyal fan base that I'll put up against anybody's in the country and they've shown that with record ticket sales and attendance and they're popping it out again this year. We can't wait to run out and play for them on August 30th."
Bundrage wants to catch 90 passes this year.
"Not everyone can be Joel Lanning," — Alton Meeks
Bonus! Because that Morrissey nugget at the beginning isn't something "I learned today," I'll add that Jordan Harris said he's beginning to pick up the playbook, which he feels is his final hurdle to really competing for a starting spot at middle 'backer and getting consistent playing time.