In today’s position preview, we will be covering the Iowa State special teams unit. Poor play by this unit was a big factor in the Cyclone’s 4-8 season, with missed kicks directly costing them a few contests. Can their play improve in 2023?
No one really departs from this position group outside backup punter Cameron Shook, who did not see action in 2022.
The New Guys
Kyle Konrardy, a freshman from Dubuque, joins the program as a place kicker, and a redshirt should be expected for him with depth at this position. Joining him is freshman punter Ryan Millmore, who came in as a top 30 punter out of high school.
At long snapper, Jacob Lyftogt joins the program as a a 5’11”, 240 pound freshman from Waunakee, Wisconsin. Rated a the 51st long-snapper out of high school, he was brought in to help solidify the future at this position.
Leaders of the Pack
Conversation about leader of the pack is better serve directed at the placekicker position. Jace Gilbert returns for a sophomore season after struggling in 2022, going 12-20 from field goal range despite making 21-22 extra points. When Gilbert was good, he was good, going perfect on kicks against SEMO, Iowa, Ohio, Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma. The bad game, really, was Kansas, where he went 1-4 in a game that also featured a botched extra point. His miss against Texas hurt in that loss, and he missed a crucial kick against Oklahoma State as well.
Sophomore punter Tyler Perkins returns for his sophomore season after a solid 2022 campaign. While there were blocked punts and poor punt coverage at times, he really was good, garnering second team freshman All-American honors and honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. He averaged 42.2 yards per punt (5th in the Big 12), had 19 punts inside 20 yards, and had 9 50-yarders.
The Best of the Rest
Redshirt sophomore Keegan Shackford, a kickoff specialist, returns after playing in 9 games a season ago. His health was not good a year ago, but is fully healthy going into the fall. Long-snapper Drake Knobloch also returns after redshirting, and he will most likely be the guy at this crucial position. Redshirt senior place kicker Chase Contreraz rounds out this position group, an intriguing kicker who transferred from Nebraska.
At kick returner, you can most likely expect Jaylin Noel to return kicks again this season. The Cyclones rarely return them, as Noel only returned 11 punts in 2022. When it comes to kickoffs, there are some other names to keep in mind, like Daniel Jackson, Darien Porter, and possibly even breakout WR Ben Ngoyi.
The kicker position looks like a battle, as Keegan Shackford and Chase Contreraz will push Jace Gilbert during fall camp. Shackford was highly touted and is surely talented, and Contreraz plated in 4 games at UNL two seasons ago.
Regardless of who takes the duties over, the kicking game has got to improve, as Iowa State will continue to play closely-contested games. Gilbert did not have the leg for longer kicks but was largely excellent from inside 40 yards. Does Iowa State utilize multiple kickers? Matt Campbell has not ruled it out. Do the Cyclones go for it more in those situations? Time will tell.
Outside of kicking, the Cyclones ranked sub 80 in punt returns and sub 100 in kickoff returns, a stat this unit needs to improve in 2023.
Special teams coach Jordan Langs (FINALLY A COACH) has been focused, in his words, on the confidence and execution of his group. His comments speak to better preparation, more film study, and a greater overall emphasis being placed on special teams moving forward, something that Cyclone fans would surely welcome this season.