Nick Fett: From walk-on to starter

The Iowa State offensive line prepares for a play during the game against Texas Saturday night. The Cyclones defeated the Longhorns in a 24-0 shutout under new starting quarterback Joel Lanning.

Ryan Young

When he jogged out onto the field, Nick Fett had yet to play in a game except for a special teams play here or there.

Yet when Joel Lanning went to take the first snap against Oklahoma State last weekend, Fett was right there on the offensive line, ready to go.

“It was awesome,” Fett said. “[There] was a lot of nerves hitting right there. As soon as the snap was done I kind of settled down and got into it and went from there.”

Fett didn’t miss a beat, jumping in and helping move a commanding drive down field — one that would eventually lead to a 24-yard touchdown run. For Fett’s first real game experience, a touchdown drive in less than two minutes was a pretty good start.

“It was surreal,” Fett said. “Just the energy is flowing and you did your job. You got seven points, what you wanted, on the board. That’s why you’re out there.”

While the Cyclones eventually lost the game 35-31, the offensive line still accomplished one of its main goals.

Running back Mike Warren ran for 73 yards against the Sooners, bringing his season total past the coveted 1,000-yard mark. The accomplishment was achieved without the help of linemen Daniel Burton and Oni Omoile — both of whom are still recovering from injury.

Fett, who replaced Omoile at guard, only learned about his new role as a starter the day before the game. Even with the shuffling on the line, offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said he was impressed with how his linemen played — and how Fett handled the situation.

“I’m very proud of him, and how all the kids handled it,” Sturdy said. “But I’m proud of Nick and how he took advantage of an opportunity that was given to him. It’s a credit to him as a person.”

Fett, a redshirt junior from Audubon, Iowa, started as a student who just wanted to attend Iowa State to pursue a degree in business agriculture.

He had a pretty impressive high school career as a two-time letter winner who was named to the all-district team as a senior. He also placed at state in both wrestling and golf. But despite his athletic accolades, Fett didn’t generate much interest from college football programs.

He decided to try out for the ISU team in the fall of 2012, the start of his freshman year.

“I had the size for it, and I love it, so I decided to tryout,” Fett said.

Fett made it through the weeklong tryout and officially walked onto the team that fall. He redshirted his initial season, and then spent the next year on the practice squad.

Eventually, Fett worked his way up onto the depth chart last season, where he was a backup tackle on the offensive line.

For someone who walked on to the team, a move to the official depth chart can be a difficult one. Sturdy said that, for Fett, it was simply his attitude that propelled him to that spot.

“He’s a walk-on … he’s worked his way to where he’s at,” Sturdy said. “He always comes every day with a positive attitude. He pays attention in meetings. He got his moment, his opportunity and he seized his moment. In sports, those kind of things are fun to watch.”

Fett made the switch from tackle to guard just three weeks ago to help compensate for Burton and Omoile’s injuries.

But even though he was new to the position and had yet to take a real snap at Iowa State, coaches say Fett did just fine.

“[Fett] graded out very well,” said head coach Paul Rhoads. “He was our co-lineman of the game. Matter of fact, he graded out at 82 percent on all 61 snaps that he played. [He] really played a heck of a ball game.”

And to get to see this transformation from walk-on to starter just goes to show what kind of a person Fett is, Sturdy said.

“It’s awesome, that’s why you do this stuff,” Sturdy said. “Again, it’s an example of someone who has a great attitude and how they go about their business in an everyday manner, doing things right, paying attention, getting your opportunity and making the best of it.”

Coaches are still unsure whether Burton or Omoile will be able to play this weekend at Kansas State. Their health, Rhoads said, will determine how big of a role Fett will play against the Wildcats.

Fett feels he showed coaches what he needed to against the Cowboys last week. Rhoads said he was impressed, and he even believes Fett will enter the spring season as a starting guard.

Either way, Fett said he’s just excited for the future.

“The big thing with [the Oklahoma State game] was that I feel like I showed I can be productive with our offense, and I can come in and play multiple positions,” Fett said. “[It’s] just coming in and being able to play pretty well. Hopefully in the future, [I get] a scholarship, and for sure a starting spot. So we’ll see what happens.”