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Iowa State Football Position Previews: The Special Teams

Let’s take a look at the prognosis for Iowa State’s special teams in 2017

Iowa State has generally had the luxury of getting above-average play out of their special teams units. Replacing a kicker like Cole Netten and a kick returner like Kene Nwangwu, however, may prove to be a very tall task.


Moving into 2017, the special teams unit does have a decent amount of talent remaining on the roster. Colin Downing returns at the punter position after a solid 2016 campaign, where he finished 8th in the Big 12 in average yards per punt (41.1). That number is a bit misleading, however, as he was 0.6 yards per punt away from 4th place. He also showed a knack for downing the other team deep in their own territory, as he pinned the opposition within the 20 yard line 23 times.

Iowa State also returns sophomore long-snapper Steven Wirtel, who had a solid freshman campaign and is thought of by the coaches as a future pro.

The man expected to owen the job of kicking field goals and extra points is Oregon State-transfer Garret Owens. Garret left the Beavers after a rather rough junior season, where he converted 10 of 17 field goals. Five of those misses came from 45 yards or longer, however. He also owens some top-ten records at OSU, as he ended up 7th in career makes and career percentage in school history.

In terms of kick returns, there are plenty of speedy players vying for the job of returning kicks. Trever Ryen returns as the clubhouse leader to handle punts. Ryen had a spectacular 2016 season, as he was named a first-team all conference punt returner by both Althon and ESPN, was a Burlsworth Award semi-finalist, and was named to the Paul Hornug award watch list. He enters 2017 once again on the Hornug award watch list.

Kickoff return duties will likely be handled by a committee of players, the likes of which includes Ryen, Mike Warren, Johnnie Lang, and D’Andre Payne. Palpable buzz surrounds freshman Johnnie Lang, as he is one of the fastest players on the roster.


In case you were wondering (we know, you weren’t) ISU has approximately 18,000 kickers on the roster. Ok, more like 7 kickers and punters, but still. Campbell and CO. are certainly leaving the team with plenty of leg room in the kicking department.

Redshirt freshmen punter Joe Rivera, redshirt sophomore kicker Peyton Paddock, and redshirt freshman kickers John Banta and Connor Assalley (what a name), make up the youth in the kicking department.

Chris Francis, who handled kickoff duties a year ago, is expected to resume this role again in 2017. Francis, who was the team’s Outstanding Walk-On Player Award winner this past season, tallied 35 touchbacks in 67 attempts and even recovered his own onside kick against Kansas State.


While there are pieces returning, the elephant in the room is certainly the question mark at the kicker position. Will Garret Owens be able to put this past season behind him and serve as a competent kicker? Owens’ career numbers indicate that he is an accurate kicker, albeit not from long-range, and the staff feels very confident in his abilities. Chris Francis is also a solid option as a backup, should anything happen to Owens.

Colin Downing is not a spectacular punter, but provides consistency and shows a talent for putting opposing teams in tough spots field position-wise. In all, both the punting and kicking departments are in good hands.

When it comes to kick returns, the biggest challenge lies in replacing Kene Nwangwu, if he is unable to play in 2017. Nwangwu gave the Cyclones a major threat in the return game, and having his services would be a huge plus this fall. If he is unable to play, there are still plenty of speedy options for Campbell and Co. to turn to.

How they Stack up in the Big 12

Iowa State finished in the middle of the pack return-wise in 2016. Most of the top kick returners are gone, leaving Gary Jennings (WVU) atop the pack headed into 2017. Make no mistake, the potential loss of Kene Nwangwu hurts, as he finished 2nd in that department in 2017. If Kene can return, or if another player fills in admirably, expect ISU to again be towards the top of the conference in this category.