By Rob Gray
AMES — Every time Iowa State center Tom Farniok glanced at the roster, he fumed.
Farniok wanted the truth to come out — in the form of the triple-digit number next to his name.
“It’s been way too much of a struggle for me to not be getting credit for it,” the soon-to-be three-year starter said firmly on media day.
Weight-gain wish granted.
Farniok finally saw his scale-based sum bumped up from a paltry 287 pounds to a more robust 295 late last week — and it was almost as difficult adding that bulk in real life as it was on paper.
“I (was) a little chapped about that, because it’s been a struggle for me to get up there,” said Farniok, who as a ninth-grader weighed in at a surprising 155 pounds.
New Cyclone offensive line coach Chris Klenakis approves of Farniok’s orneriness.
It’s a start.
“He’s been in the trenches, he’s been in the battles, he’s been in the wars,” Klenakis said.
Farniok and his fellow linemen hope to fan the flames for an offense that ranked last in yards gained per game in Big 12 play (353.2) and ninth in rushing productivity (147.6).
Three starters return: Farniok, right guard Ethan Tuftee and right tackle Kyle Lichtenberg.
That’s a solid core, augmented by experienced Iowa City West grad Jacob Gannon at either left tackle or guard, but likely the latter at this point, with sophomore Brock Dagel topping the depth chart at that tackle spot.
“Competitive,” Tuftee, the team’s oft-injured strongest player said of spring and fall camps. “(Klenakis), he’s bringing a lot to the table. … I think it’s going to push us forward, push us in the right direction.”
That’s — and you’ve heard this before — downhill.
Klenakis helped devise the pistol offense while at Nevada.
The highly-adaptable scheme allows for more creativity than the standard spread and merges principles of the zone-read and power running games.
“It’s a blue-collar system,” Klenakis said.
That’s a term Klenakis, like ISU head coach Paul Rhoads, uses often.
His working vocabulary — and coaching philosophy — churns around a handful of nitty-gritty terms.
“That’s more downhill, physical blocking,” Klenakis said. “There’s more finesse blocking in today’s age, but we still believe we’ve got to push the front and knock people off the football.”
Klenakis drops “lunch pail” references.
Among the array of photos shot at the first practice — the only one open to the media — the offensive line coach can be spotted running, dead sprint, t-shirt tucked in, whistle clenched between his teeth.
All of the above pleases Rhoads, who said a Klenakis-coached offensive line is akin to a Rhoads-coached defensive backfield.
“They’re going to grind every second they’re on that practice field; they’re not going to take plays off,” Rhoads said. “They’re only going to know one way and that’s hard work. They’re going to fight until the whistle blows.”
Kelankis naturally pushes plenty of sled work.
It’s old school.
It makes linemen extra ornery.
“To be a very successful team, the O-line has to be a strength,” Farniok said. “You’ve seen it before. There are those days you can’t do something right, it seems like, and you have to be able to grind the ball out for four-yard runs consistently, just to get one to pop, get a big play, maybe a spark. Have something to fall back on, always.”
Snapshot of ISU’s Offensive Line
The depth chart
No. 1s (tackles) — Brock Dagel (LT), so., 68-297; Kyle Lichtenberg (RT), sr., 6-6, 296; No. 2s — Jacob Dunning, fr., 6-5, 280 (LT); Daniel Burton (RT), fr., 6-5, 302; No. 1s (guards) — Jacob Gannon (LG), jr., 6-7, 300; Ethan Tuftee (RG), sr., 6-4, 315; No. 2s — Oni Omoile (LG), so., 6-3, 282; Jamison Lalk (RG), so., 6-6, 295; No. 1 (center) — Tom Farniok, jr., 6-4, 287; No. 2 — Ben Loth, jr., 6-6, 316.
Tackles: Brock Dagel is in line for his first career start, though the door is open for Iowa City West grad Jacob Gannon to slide from guard to tackle if the need arises. Lichtenberg provides athleticism and durability at the other tackle spot. He’s started 16 straight games and played in 36 in a row — tops among all Cyclones. Guards: Ethan Tuftee, when healthy, is a difference maker. He’s won ISU’s pound-for-pound strength award the past two seasons and can dunk a basketball off two feet standing still. Gannon’s proved versatile, moving between guard and tackle often throughout the past two seasons. Center: Tom Farniok, has started from day one. His string of 26 straight starts is only matched by safety Jacques Washington. His brains and, finally, brawn (Farniok readily admits to being manhandled often as a freshman, less so last season, now bigger than ever) help make the offense go.
The No. 2s
Tackles: A pair of redshirt freshmen. Ouch? Maybe, maybe not. Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads has liked what he’s seen of both Jacob Dunning and Daniel Burton. Now fans get to see how they’ve progressed behind the scenes. Guards: The left side became thinner when Bob Graham (6-5, 296) suffered a disc injury that requires season ending surgery. Oni Omoile, however, has at least played in a couple games. At right guard, Jamison Lalk should see plenty of action as coaches continue to “protect” Tuftee and his knees periodically. Lalk played in all 13 games last season. Center: Ben Loth hasn’t played much since coming and campus, but that’s because Farniok rarely rests. He’s bigger than Farniok, though, and the coaches are confident in his abilities.
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