AMES, IOWA -- If Iowa State is to take the quantum leap forward in the 2015 season that it hopes, it will undoubtedly need assistance from a number of players who have hardly been seen before.
Sure, the Cyclones will trot out six JUCO transfers (four beginning this spring) along with a grayshirt who could make an immediate impact. It will take more than just those transfers, however, to take the necessary leap in the Big 12. That’s where current players enter the picture.
Iowa State has a number of athletes on its current roster who have hardly been seen (if at all), and who very well could take the next step this spring toward making contributions in 2015. Let’s take a look at some of the players who aren’t newcomers this spring, but whose names will likely be worth remembering.
Jordan Harris | Linebacker
When Harris arrived at Iowa State as a mid-year transfer prior to last spring, the hope was that the 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker would solidify the middle for the Cyclones in 2014. Instead, Harris struggled to immediately grasp the defensive scheme and ultimately was redshirted.
That could play into Iowa State favor now as Harris vaults to the top of the depth chart immediately as the team’s No. 1 middle linebacker. In 2013 Harris averaged 13.8 tackles per game at Copiah Lincoln C.C., which was the best mark in the NJCAA. Harris can hit — one coach has said he “splatters” people — and if he better grasps the defense, beginning next week with the start of spring practice, he could be an upgrade in the middle.
Michael Warren | Running Back
When coaches and players were asked late in the 2014 season to present a few names who stood out in practice but weren’t playing, the common name that continued to come out was that of running back Mike Warren. The redshirt freshman has impressed coaches on the practice field since his arrival, and now he’ll finally get an opportunity to make use of it.
With Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy gone, Iowa State will have a young backfield. Warren, who is 6-foot and nearly 200 pounds, has a chance to be the feature back for the Cyclones. As a high school senior, Warren rushed for 2,512 yards and 26 touchdowns, averaging 9.3 yards per carry. He has quickness and might very well be the favorite to be the every down back from Day 1 in 2015.
Martinez Syria | Running Back
Then there is Syria. The true sophomore isn’t a new face after appearing in five games last season when his redshirt was removed. He is nonetheless a player who could emerge this season. Syria received only 20 carries in his rookie season, partly because he suffered a concussion late in the year. Now, he will likely work alongside Warren in getting the bulk of the carries.
While Warren comes off more as an every down back, Syria, at 6-foot, 210-pounds, is a punisher who will most likely be relied upon to help in short yardage situations and on third down in 2015.
Terry Ayeni | Defensive End
While Iowa State has attempted to bolster the middle of its defensive line with the addition of JUCO defensive tackles Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath, bolstering the outside will be done from within. That starts with Ayeni, who was a JUCO transfer last season from New Mexico Military Institute. Ayeni was expected to contribute immediately, but a knee injury in the summer forced him to redshirt his first season.
Ayeni self-described himself as 85 percent in early February and coach Paul Rhoads has said he should be full-go from the onset of spring practice. While Iowa State still hasn’t coached the redshirt junior, he should make an impact next season.
Gabe Luna | Defensive End
If Ayeni is Part 1 of bolstering the defensive line from within, then Gabe Luna is likely to be Part 1A. Luna, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end is in a similar position to Ayeni having arrived at Iowa State last year as a JUCO transfer from Butler C.C. Dealing with injuries, however, Luna was ultimately forced to redshirt his initial season in Ames and now enters spring practice as a redshirt junior.
Where Luna is in his recovery isn’t fully certain, but Rhoads did say that he is expected to also be full-go when spring practice starts. That means Iowa State will add two experienced defensive ends to the rotation March 3.
Orion Salters | Wide Receiver
Maybe Jauan Wesley should be on this list as the true sophomore caught only 10 passes for 107 yards after his redshirt was burned. Wesley should make a bigger impact in 2015, beginning with the six weeks of spring. However, the name to watch in terms of a new face might be redshirt freshman Orion Salters.
Salters made 33 catches for 587 yards and rushed for 625 yards on 113 carries while also tallying 17 combined touchdowns as a high school senior in Dallas. Rhoads told AllCyclones.com in early February that the 5-foot-11 receiver, “will play for us this year as a redshirt freshman.”
The Redshirt Tight Ends
There are two tight ends who could enter the picture this spring and vie for playing time come next season. After redshirting their initial college seasons, tight ends Jake Ortale and Scott Schaffner should receive opportunities to showcase themselves in the coming six weeks of spring practice.
Iowa State loses its top target from last season in E.J. Bibbs, but the Cyclones are expected to rely more on receivers in 2015. That helps lessen the burden placed on Bibbs’ replacement. With that said, whoever gets playing time in 2015 will certainly be used to block and should still factor into the receiving offense.
The Redshirt Linebackers
When it comes to the linebacker group, guys like Luke Knott, Brian Mills and Kane Seeley will be in the mix at linebacker along with Harris, who has already been mentioned in this list. Added in that mix are two other news faces that could play a factor beginning this spring. Those linebackers include Willie Harvey and Reggan Northrup. Rhoads mentioned both by name when talking about the 2014 class in early February with AllCyclones.com and said both Harvey and Northrup, “will be in the two-deep this spring and competing.”
One other redshirt freshman linebacker not mentioned by name is Sam Seonbuchner. It remains to be seen where he stands in the mix, but he figures to play a role this coming season, too.