Butler, Cyclone wideouts taking senior departures in stride

Iowa State wide receivers Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler celebrate a touchdown during the 59th Annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30, 2017, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Cyclones defeated the Tigers 21-20.

Noah Rohlfing

A new era is on the horizon for the Iowa State receiving corps. 

The Cyclones lost three of their top four contributors to graduation, including NFL Draft prospect and record-setter Allen Lazard, senior grad transfer Marchie Murdock, and former walk-on speedster Trever Ryen. 

All told, Iowa State lost 53 percent of the 2017 team’s receptions, 54.1 percent of the team’s total receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns. That’s a huge loss from an area where the Cyclones were, at times, dominated last season. 

Wide receivers coach Bryan Gasser doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about, though. 

“It’s gonna be certainly a new look from what you saw a year ago,” Gasser said. “But with some familiar faces sprinkled in.”

The departures mean that redshirt junior Hakeem Butler will have to step into a leading role this season. Butler finished the 2017 season with 697 yards on 41 receptions, averaging 17 yards per reception. Gasser called him the team’s “most explosive player.”

One of the main questions surrounding Butler is where he’ll line up. For most of the 2017 season, the 6-foot-6 Butler lined up in the slot, with Murdock and Lazard on the outside. Now, with both gone, Butler is the Cyclones’ tallest target (apart from the tight end corps) and it would stand to reason that he’ll get looks on the perimeter. 

Gasser said that figuring out Butler’s role will be one of the first things they hash out during spring practices. Butler thinks that wherever he winds up, he’ll make a difference. 

“We all saw what I could do from the slot,” Butler said. “You want to see what else you’re good at and venture outside of things.”

Butler’s confidence isn’t unfounded, and it’s echoed by Gasser and teammate Matthew Eaton. Eaton says that Butler has become a leader for the team. 

Eaton looks poised to grow his role for the Cyclones as well after catching 21 of his 27 targets in 2017 and scoring four touchdowns. Eaton came to Iowa State out of Pearl River Community College, but his production was limited by the presence of Murdock and Lazard. 

Eaton also was hampered by injuries early in the season, and Gasser said that he never felt like Eaton got back to 100 percent. 

Along with staying healthy, Eaton wants to take the next step this season.

“I’m just trying to get in where I fit in,” Eaton said. “I’m just focusing on being more consistent and bringing more energy to every drive.”

Junior Deshaunte Jones, redshirt sophomore Jalen Martin and redshirt freshman Tarique Milton have also been mentioned as just a few of the players to watch out for in the receivers’ room. Gasser made it a point to mention that the three have “elite quickness,” and it’s expected that the trio will be competing to play in the “Trever Ryen” role in the fall.

Jones had a breakout freshman season, being named an Honorable Mention All-American by Campus Insiders and finishing the season with 536 yards on 37 receptions, best in the Big 12 for a freshman. 

His sophomore season was a step back, as he only caught 28 passes for 273 yards. 

Gasser said that Jones is putting in the work this offseason to get back to his freshman form. 

“He has really redefined himself,” Gasser said. “He’s really taken a lot of time to invest into his craft.”

Gasser mentioned that Jones was one of the most improved players during offseason workouts. 

Martin scarcely saw the field at receiver in 2017, only posting two receptions for 22 yards, but the redshirt sophomore played on special teams frequently. 

Butler also calls Martin a “freak”.

“He just makes plays,” Butler said.

Eaton thinks that the Cyclones won’t have any problems with replacing the production of the three seniors. 

When asked what he would tell the fans, Eaton said that the room is “stacked with tremendous talent” and to expect an explosive group that will try to be “the best in the country.” Only time will tell, but the vibe the Cyclones’ receivers give off is one of supreme confidence.

Tasked with replacing one of the Cyclones’ all-time greats, Hakeem Butler, Matthew Eaton and the Cyclones show no signs of slowing down.