By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State wide receiver Quenton Bundrage formed a tight scout team connection with quarterback Sam Richardson.
They’d dissect film together.
They’d question each other’s tendencies, knowing their time would come.
“It makes the chemistry better,” said Bundrage, who has emerged as the Cyclones’ top potential play-maker at wide receiver. “We’ve been connecting all the time and we hang out in our spare time. Our chemistry’s real good and it’s still building.”
It’s also forming a chain reaction.
Bundrage, a 6-2, 189-pound sophomore, has rapidly climbed the leadership chart — so much so that ‘Q’ isn’t the only monicker he goes by.
“I’m basically sitting here saying Quenton Bundrage is our bell cow and the leader of the whole room and he’s a redshirt sophomore,” ISU wide receivers coach Todd Sturdy said. “That’s what it is, where you’re really young, but I think we’re really talented. We’ve got a great room. Great attitudes. Great work ethic. It’s a lot of fun coaching these guys.”
The Cyclones’ passing offense ranked eighth in the Big 12 last season, at 214.1 yards per game.
Former players Josh Lenz, Chris Young, Aaron Horne and Jerome Tiller accounted for 108.8 yards, or 51 percent, of that total, so Bundrage’s planned spike in production will be essential.
And he’ll also require downfield company.
Junior Jarvis West, who has been nicked up in fall camp, caught 31 passes last season — tops among returners.
Senior Albert Gary, like Bundrage, snared two touchdown passes in 2012.
Former walk-on turned potential starter Justin Coleman hasn’t caught a pass yet, but continues to curry effusive praise from coaches.
“He’s always where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be there,” Sturdy said. “Sometimes he gets there in different ways, but he gets there and then he catches the ball consistently. Smart guy, Smart player.”
So a mix of passing-game pieces are in place.
The youngest ones — redshirt freshmen such as Dondre Daley and P.J. Harris — may be the shiniest, regardless of their spots on the current depth chart.
“We’ve got to put our points up this year and being young and youthful, it’s not an excuse whatsoever,” said Richardson, a sophomore with two starts. “We’ll be out there making plays like we should be.”
Daley’s a Bundrage clone of sorts — one inch shorter and two pounds heavier.
They’re not related, but might as well be.
“(Bundrage) even calls me his little nephew,”Daley said. “I call him uncle.”
Both pose a deep threat.
Both have digested the playbook throughly enough that instinct can take over.
“I know exactly what I have to do on the field,” said Bundrage, who caught 20 passes for 232 yards last season. “I don’t have to think about the play before I do it, and that alone helps me play faster. It makes me more comfortable.”
That’s saying something for a guy who’s made five career starts.
A “bell cow” now running with the bulls — not to mention Sooners, Wildcats, Cowboys and Horned Frogs.
“We’ve made some big plays,” ISU offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said. “The key is making one Tuesday and Wednesday isn’t going to win us football games. It’s going to get us ready and help prepare us to win, but then you’ve got to make them on Saturdays.”
A few Thursdays, too.
Bundrage, regardless of nickname, appears ready.
“He’s obviously a guy that we’ll lean on heavily,” Sturdy said.
A close look at Iowa State’s wide receivers
The depth chart
No. 1 (“Z” slot) — Quenton Bundrage, so., 6-2, 189; No. 2 — Dondre Daley, fr., 6-1, 191; No. 1 (“X” slot) — Tad Ecby, so., 6-0, 195; No. 2 — P.J. Harris, fr., 6-1, 160; No. 3 — Quan West, fr., 6-4, 219; No. 1 (“F” slot) — Justin Coleman, sr., 5-11, 188; No. 2 — Jarvis West, jr., 5-7, 174; No. 3 — Albert Gary, sr., 5-10, 203.
The No. 1s
Z: Bundrage, the “bell cow,” said an incomplete understanding of the offense hindered his production in 2012. His longest catch spanned 35 yards. He doubled that in the first practice of fall camp (yes, practice, but still …). X: Ecby’s battled injuries in his young career and hasn’t been talked about much. His size (6-4, 219) speaks for itself. F: Coleman, a walk-on from now-defunct Division II program Nebraska-Omaha, earned a scholarship spot at the start of fall camp. He puts the ‘D’ in dependable and provides a stabilizing force that’s needed among a youthful group. An all-around performer who makes everyone better.
The No. 2s
Z: Daley will see the field, and likely in different spots. Coaches and teammates rave about his speed, leaping ability and — surprisingly for a redshirt freshman — blocking acumen. “He’s got long arms and he gets into guys and stays on guys because he can move his feet,” receivers coach Todd Sturdy said. X: Harris has impressed former Iowa City West star turned No. 1 (for now) Cyclone corner Charlie Rogers. “Going against P.J. on a daily basis is something that’s really preparing me for Big 12 play,” Rogers, an explosive athlete himself, said. F: West worked in the spring on catching waist-level balls. He’s been a screen specialist, but didn’t have much room to roam last season.
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