By Rob Gray
AMES — Uptight.
In a word, that’s how Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads viewed quarterback Sam Richardson throughout most of last season.
“He was never really relaxed and poised,” Rhoads said on media day.
Until the Kansas game.
Until it was grab-your-helmet-and-go time.
When Richardson emerged as a player — so much so a fan who ran onto the field after the bowl eligibility-securing 51-23 win giddily asked Cyclone offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham, ‘Where have you been hiding this guy?”
Turned out to be in plain sight.
Redshirt freshmen can be that way.
Now the light’s burning bright and the top play-caller job’s unquestionably his.
“I think the biggest thing I remember the most is just being out there with that group of guys, especially the seniors,” Richardson, a sophomore, said of that fateful night game in Lawrence. “It was definitely exciting to be out there with guys I looked up to — guys I looked up to since day one.”
The 6-2, 205-pound Richardson’s became one of those guys.
And the word Rhoads utters most often to describe him now?
“I see a guy that’s confident and comfortable right now,” Rhoads said of Richardson, who threw eight touchdowns to one interception in the final two-plus games last season. “He’s got a full grasp of the offense. He throws the ball on time and he throws it accurately to our guys.”
That level of precision — coupled with a readily-available ignition switch — is needed to catapult ISU’s offense from statistically pedestrian to consistently electric in a Big 12 Conference replete with high-tempo, high-scoring teams.
The Cyclones’ offense failed to score more than one touchdown in four games last season and, among league teams, topped only Kansas in scoring average at 24.5.
“There’s opportunities all over the field,” RIchardson said while vowing to help amplify offensive output. “It’s what makes or breaks games. The big thing I’ve put on myself is definitely taking advantage of those opportunities.”
He did it at Kansas.
And if an unforeseen event prevents a reprise in 2013, Grant Rohach stands next in line, perched similarly to Richardson, one year apart.
“We need to make sure (he) feels like he’s just one play away,” Messingham said.
Rohach only requires gentle reminders.
He remembers that Kansas game, too.
“Sam went in and had a phenomenal game,” Rohach, a 6-1, 210-pound redshirt freshman, said. “It’s kind of like, thinking about the future, ‘Oh, what if that ever happened to me?’ People can say it happens all the time — like it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen … It happened for Sam, so I’ve got to stay in that same mindset.”
Takes time getting there.
Rohach, Rhoads said, is a “good football player.”
“Grant is Sam a year ago,” Rhoads said. “He’s tense, he’s anxious, he presses a little bit. So in ways he’s right on schedule as he tries to fight and learn and play. He’s as competitive as heck. He is smart, but he’s still learning.”
Richardson’s also working on a growth spurt, while helping guide Rohach — along with third-string Chanse Creekmur — up the learning ladder.
“It’s tough to be in that position, to be under a guy and kind of just, I wouldn’t say wait-it -out for your chance or anything, but just wait for an opportunity,” Richardson said. “Continue to make plays and practice. You’ve just got to be continually ready. You never know, in a game, what can happen.”
A closer look at Iowa State’s quarterbacks
The depth chart
No. 1 — Sam Richardson, so., 6-2, 205; No. 2 — Grant Rohach, fr., 6-1, 210; No. 3 — Chanse Creekmur, jr., 6-5, 246.
The No. 1
Richardson’s epic performance at Kansas included leading scoring drives in eight of 11 possessions. His progress slowed in the West Virginia loss, however, when he completed just 13 of 31 passes for 164 yards. Richardson struggled so much while battling the flu in the Liberty Bowl loss to Tulsa that Steele Jantz made an ill-fated final appearance behind center. But one thing never left Richardson: Ball security. Even against the Mountaineers, he threw three touchdown passes. More six-point explosions are likely to come as he settles in as the starter. “Definitely trying to lead a little bit better — lead the offense,” Richardson said.
The No. 2
Rohach has been a tad limited in fall camp by finger and hamstring issues, but exudes confidence as he masters the playbook. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in well-balanced pass-run ability. How far will that take him? Not on the field much in 2013, the Cyclones hope — for obvious reasons. That’s because they’re excited about Richardson’s prospects, not down on Rohach. His time will come, Rhoads said. It’s just not now — unless there’s an injury or calamity of some sort. “I think he has the confidence of our players as we move along,” Rhoads said.
Creekmur has Belldozer-esque dimensions and a well-traveled backstory. Record-setting quarterback at Marshalltown. Former Iowa/Santa Clara commit in hoops who actually played at Arizona State. Richardson said he’s been “amazing” at quarterback since shifting from tight end. Also amazing: He’s only a junior in terms of eligibility. True freshmen Joel “Cannon” Lanning and Trevor “Athletic” Hodge have shown flashes, as well. The safety seal on them will not be broken unless numerous emergency issues arise.
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