NOTEBOOK: O’Rien Vance, kickers, and Tongamoa, oh my!

Defensive coordinator/safeties Jon Heacock coached the defense at the first practice of the season Aug. 4, 2016. 

Noah Rohlfing

Iowa State football may not be having a Spring Game this weekend, but head coach Matt Campbell and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock had plenty to say about how the Cyclones have progressed over the past three weeks. 

From wide receivers to the search for a middle linebacker and a two-player battle for starting placekicker, here are a few notes from Monday evening’s presser.

O’Rien Vance impressing at middle linebacker in scrimmages

The battle to replace Joel Lanning at the middle linebacker spot is still ongoing. Two weeks ago, linebackers coach Tyson Veidt said that, if forced, none of the four listed middle linebackers on the roster would be ready to start that day. 

Now, after two scrimmages, Campbell and Heacock were both singing the praises of redshirt freshman linebacker O’Rien Vance. 

Vance, a Cedar Rapids native, has caught the eye of Campbell with good performances in both scrimmages.

“I think he’s certainly doing a great job,” Campbell said of Vance. 

Vance was a three-star recruit coming out of Cedar Rapids Washington High School, where he had 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks in his senior year. Vance played at outside linebacker in high school, but in Heacock’s “players, formations, players” defense, versatility is key.

While Heacock hasn’t been ‘surprised’ by any one player during spring practices, he said that Vance has been “playing like crazy” and taking advantage of his chance to win playing time. 

“There was kind of an open door for him to get in there and play,” Heacock said. “He’s really stepped up.”

Heacock emphasized that with a lot of new faces, getting players reps was important.

There likely won’t be a starter named until at least summer camp, but Vance has firmly inserted himself into the conversation.

Placekicker update


For the second straight season, the Cyclones will be replacing a departing placekicker in the fall. After Garrett Owens’ graduation, Iowa State’s placekicking picture has become a lot clearer. 

Freshman Brayden Narveson, an early enrollee, has been impressing Campbell during spring practices. Campbell raved about the Arizona native’s “really strong leg” and his raw talent, as well as his improvement over the past three weeks. 

“I’m really excited about what [Narveson] looks like and what his ability is,” Campbell said. “His improvement’s been remarkable.”

The other contender is redshirt senior Chris Francis, a Dubuque native who has been handling kickoffs for two-and-a-half seasons after taking over those duties halfway through the 2015 season. Francis’ combined touchback percentage from 2016 and 2017 is 54.4 percent, hitting a total of 73 touchbacks on 134 attempts. 

Campbell stressed that getting the kickers reps during practice was “invaluable.”

“It’s great for these guys to fail and learn how to fail, then learn how to come back from failure,” Campbell said. 

Expectations for Tongamoa

Defensive lineman Kamilo Tongamoa has been a constant topic of conversation during spring practice, with his vast amount of talent and limited production in the 2017 season. 

The redshirt senior has dropped his weight down to around 300 pounds, and he is a part of a defensive line group that has impressed Campbell over the spring practices. Campbell said that “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to Tongamoa this Fall, but there’s a caveat.

“Kamilo can be as good as he wants to be,” Campbell said. “He’s gotta be consistent and prove that he can do it day in and day out.” 

Tongamoa’s ability to rush the passer could be a boost for a defense that ranked tied for 65th in the country last season at two sacks per game and lost J.D. Waggoner, the team leader in tackles for loss to graduation. 

Heacock said that the Cyclones “need his depth” and that he’s become more comfortable with the defensive system. 

“It’s not new to him anymore,” Heacock said. “He’s made a lot of improvement, and we need him to.”