By Rob Gray
AMES — One’s a roughneck redshirt freshman walk-on who now sports a bushy, in-your-face beard.
The other’s a quiet, athletic senior who may boast the longest dread locks on the Cyclones’ roster.
Levi Peters: He grew up on a farm near Gilmore City and starred at Fort Dodge High School.
Jarvis West: The man of few words, flowing dreads, and quick-cutting talents, he’s from sunny St. Petersburg, Fla.
Two ISU players.
Seemingly worlds apart.
The twin engines to the Cyclones’ across-the-board spike in production — besides punter Kirby Van Der Kamp — on special teams entering Saturday’s 6 p.m. Big 12 game at 12th-ranked Baylor.
“You never know when that big play on special teams can really change a game,” said Peters, who made his first career fumble recovery in last week’s 42-35 loss at No. 16 Texas Tech.
Peters’ pounce on a bounding football that had touched the Red Raiders’ Keenon Ward set up ISU’s first scoring drive for a touchdown in that game, which tied the score, 14-14.
“Felt pretty good to touch the ball live,” Peters said. “I don’t think many people knew what I was doing when I was going up there. … But I saw it hit him, so went up and for it and I was pretty confident it hit him. People were kind of like, ‘What is he doing?’”
Making plays, that’s what — just like West, who put the Cyclones’ first points on the board at Tech with a 95-yard kickoff return for touchdown a quarter earlier.
It was ISU’s first non-onside kick return for six points since two-time Heisman Trophy Award finalist Troy Davis ran one back on Nov. 19, 1994, against Big Eight-foe Colorado.
“Albert (Gary) led me through the hole, I saw the hole, and saw there was one man to beat,” said West, who had an apparent return for touchdown called back in the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl. “I made a move on him and then it was nothing but grass and I just ran to it.”
The Cyclones (1-4, 0-2) are running up impressive special teams numbers — and need to sprinkle in more Saturday to keep up with the high-scoring Bears (5-0, 2-0).
Front and center is the steady Van Der Kamp, who has booted ISU to the 10th-best net punting average (41 yards) in the country.
But high rankings lurk elsewhere, too: The Cyclones are 11th in punt return coverage (2.43 yards); 16th in kickoff returns (25.63); and 29th in kick coverage (18.86).
“Simplicity,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said when asked for the keys to broad improvement on special teams. “We’re doing a lot of the things repeatedly. We’re mastering skills, if you will. We’ve got a dedicated group of kids.”
None more so than Peters, a former all-state catcher who considered pursuing baseball in college until the Cyclones invited him to walk on the football team and assistant head coach Bill Bleil maintained frequent contact.
“It’s kind of a dream, being a Cyclone,” Peters said.
The same holds true for West — who happened to craft his best career effort in last year’s 35-21 upset of Baylor in Ames.
West scored three touchdowns in that game and is hitting stride at a time the offense needs him the most.
Patience, he said, is the key to a cheer-raising — or crowd-silencing — return, but the benefits aren’t confined to special situations.
“It’s like running routes, too,” West said. “The whole game, you’ve got to be patient. You can’t rush everything. Nothing in a game works without patience.”
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