Partly by design and partly by necessity, Iowa State is getting younger.
The Cyclones burned two redshirts Saturday when running back Martinez Syria joined the backfield rotation and receiver Jauan Wesley emerged as a target for quarterback Sam Richardson. The two true freshmen join receiver Allen Lazard and punter Colin Downing as first-year players who won’t redshirt.
“I’ve never believed a statement that I’ve heard other coaches mutter, ‘Second half of the season you’re no longer a freshman.’ You’re a freshman all season long,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “Some grow up quicker than others and some don’t quite simply. The more opportunities they get, the more practice reps as well as game reps they get, the better they’ll get and the more comfortable they’ll get.”
From the onset of camp this fall, Rhoads had the intention of playing with two true freshmen this season. Downing would be taking over punter Kirby Van Der Kamp’s duties, and the highly-touted Lazard was expected to make an impact immediately.
Syria, meanwhile, had been taking reps in practice for weeks with the thought that he could potentially be used this season.
“We’ve been kind of grooming him since training camp that we thought by Week 3 or 4 he was going to get some reps,” offensive coordinator Mark Mangino said. “We always kept in the back of our mind, if we didn’t need him, we would redshirt him. We have a need for a big back in our offense and Martinez brings that big back element that we need.”
The need for Syria came in part because the Iowa State running attack has lagged in the initial weeks of the season. The true freshman, at 6-feet and 205 pounds, provides a bigger back that the Cyclones hope will spark the offense.
While Syria was a work-in-progress and had widely been considered a possibility to play this season, Wesley was not. The Cyclones entered the season with more depth at receiver than any other position, and the youngster appeared buried this season.
Injuries to top playmaker Quenton Bundrage (ACL tear) and P.J. Harris (fractured leg) began to take a toll on that depth. When Brett Medders (ACL tear) was hurt last week in practice, the decision was made to burn Wesley’s redshirt.
Whether the team should redshirt a player or play them in their initial season has no simple answers.
“It’s a communication process,” Rhoads said. “Martinez wanted to play the whole time. He was disappointed the first game when he wasn’t part of the rotation. So for him there was no push really needed, he was ready to go. Jauan, really the same way, but he realized the opportunity wasn’t there. With injuries, an opportunity now presented itself. With either of them it’s not a waste, and that’s the biggest thing, it’s not only helpful for the team, but it’s not a waste for them because they’ll be playing.”
While Rhoads said playing these four true freshmen immediately isn’t a waste, it’s also not something he hopes will become a trend.
“I don’t like playing with children,” Rhoads said. “I’d rather be playing with men three, four years from now.”