GRIDIRON: Who’s next? Iowa State will have a new face in 2013

When the 2013 season begins, the ISU football team will be searching for a new identity. The No. 20 jerseys on store shelves have been swapped for No. 52 jerseys. So, who is the next face of the program? The answer isn’t so simple. 

Alex Halsted

As practice wound down on the hottest day of fall camp with the team dressed in full pads, Jacques Washington strapped up his helmet and settled in for the kickoff return.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about that.

The return, though, came a short walk west from Jack Trice Stadium on Johnny Majors Field with nobody watching and no bright lights. Washington’s return came two and a half hours into practice, as it wound down during period 24 in the third week of camp.

The return was for the scout team.

“That’s what those kinds of guys do in situations like this,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads. “That’s what those faces need to do and we need more of them doing it.”

Iowa State will have a new identity as the 2013 season begins. The questions still come now and then about Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, the often talked about linebackers who have departed for the NFL.

The Cyclones are still searching for a new face of the program. Maybe one will emerge. Maybe it’s Paul Rhoads. Maybe, players say, the team doesn’t have just one.

So when the scout kickoff team needed a returner, Washington didn’t hesitate.

“I would say just take advantage of every rep, every opportunity you get to get better,” Washington said of being a leader. “If you’re not getting better, your opponent somewhere else is getting better.”

The team is focused on winning games, first. Eventually a face might emerge, but right now there is belief that the team’s leaders can come from all over.

“My job is to play football at a high level, and that’s what I’m here to do. I’m not going to get too caught up in being this, or being that,” said linebacker Jeremiah George, who started alongside Knott and Klein last season. “We have a lot of guys on this team that could step up at any given time and be the face.”

The qualities of a ‘face’

What does being a face of a college football program mean, anyway?

“It’s from the time they wake up to the time they leave here at night,” Rhoads said when asked. “To me leadership is about elevating the play of those around you and we need to continue to do that.”

When ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore announced to the country on Nov. 18, 2011, ‘Touchdown, they did it!’ running back Jeff Woody was the face as Iowa State upset No. 2 Oklahoma State at Jack Trice Stadium.

Woody has heard the chants of his name with each subsequent carry at Jack Trice, but he’s convinced being a face is more than carrying a football.

“Anytime a kid wearing a Cyclones shirt asks you for a picture or something like that, you do it,” Woody said. “Being someone your little brother would want to look up to. We’ve got a lot of guys on the team that do that.”

Each player rattles off different names who could be one of the team’s faces. Washington, George and Woody are a few. James White — a two-time captain for the Cyclones — is another.

“You don’t have just one guy out there that everybody has to go to,” said White, who will be the team’s starting running back for a second consecutive season. “We have quite a few leaders on the team. We have six captains, so that’s pretty good for us as a team.”

Washington, who has started 26 consecutive games, often riles up teammates with his Channel 10 News show. He knows that leading on the field is important, too.

That’s why — even when no fans or media could notice — he dropped back to return that kickoff for the scout team when he could have slid by, letting someone else do it instead.

“Just bringing it everyday, being that guy that just doesn’t talk about it,” Washington said, listing qualities of a leader. “I like to have fun as you probably see — I like to make jokes — but at the same time it’s business when its time to strap it up.”

Seeing numbers in the stands

Austen Arnaud remembers the moment when he first felt like a face of the Iowa State program. As he stood on the grass at Jack Trice and looked around, he saw his No. 4 scattered around the stadium.

“Wow, there’s a lot of jerseys out here,” Arnaud remembers thinking.

The year before during his redshirt sophomore season, Arnaud was in the midst of his first season as the Cyclones’ starting quarterback. Things weren’t going well.

“We won our first two games and lost the next 10,” Arnaud said. “About midway through the year we were down on ourselves. That’s one thing that I always preach, you always have to stay positive.”

After the season, when Gene Chizik departed for Auburn, Rhoads was hired. One of his first calls was to Arnaud. He told the soon-to-be junior he wanted him to lead.

The No. 4 jerseys came shortly after in 2009, and Arnaud helped Iowa State to a 7-6 record and an Insight Bowl victory, its first bowl win since 2004.

“It’s a pretty cool thing, honestly,” Arnaud said of seeing his number on jerseys. “It’s a cool deal to see guys that get to have that, because for a team like Iowa State they only make one jersey. That was definitely cool and it was definitely an honor.”

Knott’s No. 20 has filled the backs of fans in recent years and continues to populate Ames in every direction.

“It meant a lot for me and it showed that people had looked up to me,” Knott said. “I never really saw myself as being that guy coming in, I was just happy to be there. To go from that to having my jerseys out there, it was a really, really cool thing.”

On the shelves this season, the gold No. 20 lettering on the replica cardinal Iowa State jerseys have been replaced by No. 52, the number worn by George. In the constantly changing college football landscape, the team is searching for a new identity.

“It’s exciting, it’s a part of college football that you get to experience,” George said. “I’m going to take it in stride and enjoy it. Especially little kids, they’re wearing my jersey and they get to come up and meet me. That’s an amazing thing.”

Finding a face to follow

When Paul Rhoads looks at his 2013 team, he doesn’t see one face that stands out.

“I want them to be bigger faces,” Rhoads said. “They don’t look at me like Mount Rushmore right now if that’s the case.”

So, who’s next?

Out of the 22 starters that will trot onto the field on offense and defense, nine will be seniors. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson is in a similar position to the Arnaud of 2009 when he emerged as a face with multiple years of eligibility remaining.

Sometimes becoming a face just happens.

“I never really saw myself as the face of the program,” said Knott, whose 347 career tackles are sixth all-time in ISU history. “I’m just a guy who came in everyday and worked and was lucky enough to be voted captain. The fans and everybody can do whatever they want with it.”

This season, there just might not be one face.

“With this team, with the leaders they have in place, there really isn’t a face of the team,” Arnaud said. “This team is very good in that aspect that, they’re not a selfish club. They’re a team group.

“That’s what makes them unique in my opinion.”