Special teams add positives to ISU football’s loss to TCU


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Redshirt sophomore DeVondrick Nealy hurtles through the air over a OSU safety to get into the end zone during Iowa State’s 58-27 loss on Saturday, Oct. 26, at Jack Trice Stadium.

Alex Halsted

DeVondrick Nealy looked on helplessly as his teammate lay on the field.

Early in the second quarter against Texas Christian on Saturday, Nov. 9, tight end Ernst Brun Jr. caught a pass for an 18-yard gain before getting hit. Nealy watched his teammate stop moving for a second and close his eyes. Trainers asked him where he was.

“It kind of made me scared,” Nealy said. “Me and Ernst are pretty close; we’ve been here ever since my true freshman year.”

Nealy and ISU coach Paul Rhoads talked about Brun’s injury at halftime. The redshirt sophomore was motivated.

“It really touched me at the bottom of my heart,” Nealy said of Brun’s injury. “I knew I was getting the ball back at halftime. I just knew I had to make something big happen with the chance I got.”

Nealy and the ISU special teams unit were bright spots in Iowa State’s 21-17 loss to TCU, which kept the Cyclones winless in Big 12 play. Iowa State has now lost seven-straight conference games dating back to last season.

Nealy set up near the goal line and took the second half kickoff. He pushed free through the hole on the left side, broke a tackle near midfield and then another just across it on his way to the end zone.

The 98-yard kick return for a touchdown evened the score at 14.

The return put Nealy in the record books with Jarvis West, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Texas Tech earlier this season. Iowa State hadn’t had two kick returns for touchdowns in a season since 1963.

“You can’t have a kickoff return without a lot of contribution,” Rhoads said. “DeVondrick’s individual effort on that play was one of the better we’ve seen all season. Strength, grit, speed.”

The special teams unit set up Iowa State’s first touchdown, too.

On fourth and 11 from the TCU 40 at the beginning of the second quarter, Iowa State sent punter Kirby Van Der Kamp onto the field. He took the snap and stepped forward, passing 25 yards downfield where he connected with receiver Justin Coleman.

The next play, ISU quarterback Sam Richardson rushed 15 yards into the end zone.

“You’ve heard me use the word cerebral to describe Kirby,” Rhoads said. “It applies to everything he does, more than just his punting.”

Van Der Kamp’s 25-yard completion was the longest play for Iowa State in the loss. He also punted 10 times as Iowa State went 3-and-out on six of its 15 drives. Three of his punts were pinned inside the 20, including one at the 1-yard line.

The biggest spark went to Nealy, who never considered getting tackled.

“I made one stiff arm, and I just saw the [end zone],” Nealy said. “I knew I wasn’t going to go down. They just kept going at my legs, kept going at my legs. I just had to keep my legs up and just keep going.”