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Iowa State freshman Mike Rose runs the ball into the end zone after catching a fumble in the fourth quarter of Iowa State's 42-38 win over Kansas State. The touchdown by Rose was one of three touchdowns scored by the Cyclones in the 17-point comeback win.

In Iowa State football's penultimate regular season game against Kansas State, the Cyclones trailed 38-28 with a little under nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter. 

The Wildcats' Skylar Thompson dropped back to pass, and then-senior linebacker Willie Harvey drilled the quarterback and knocked the ball loose. 

Fellow linebacker Mike Rose scooped up the football. The then-freshman rumbled into the end zone for his first career score and cut the deficit to 38-35.

The Cyclones defense sparked Iowa State late in its 42-38 win over the Wildcats, but this fall, the Cyclones will be without Harvey, who is preparing for a chance to play in the NFL.

On the bright side for Iowa State, the team returns sophomore Rose and the rest of the linebackers who contributed last season — plus, Bobby McMillen III is expected back after suffering an injury last season.

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Sophomore Linebacker Jake Hummel makes a tackle during the 2nd Half of the Iowa State vs Baylor game Nov. 10. Iowa State defeated Baylor 28 to 14.

"We've got our most experienced group back, for sure," said linebackers coach Tyson Veidt. "We've got four guys back that played in all big situations for us, obviously Mike [Rose] and Marcel [Spears Jr.] — two returning starters at their spot — and then O'Rien Vance and Jake Hummel.

"So collectively those four guys have played a lot of snaps for us — not just on defense but on special teams as well."

The two starters Veidt mentioned — Spears Jr. and Rose — took turns speaking to media members. After Rose's interview, the linebacker duo exchanged a swift and smooth handshake followed by a grunt.

Almost as slick as their handshake was the two linebackers' play last season. Spears Jr. and Rose combined for 144 tackles, fours sacks and 17 tackles for a loss.

The combo also presented durability with both starting 13 games last season. Without Harvey, though, the Cyclones are left with a hole in the unit. Iowa State has a handful of options to mix in at the position. 

"Most definitely," Spears Jr. said on the quality of Iowa State's depth. "Our room's crowded. I'm liking it."

Some of the depth in the linebacker unit comes from recent athletes swapping and experimenting with new positions. 

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Iowa State Linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. speaks to the crowd during the pep rally held Dec. 27.

Redshirt freshman Will McDonald shifted from the defensive line to a linebacker role, and Jatairis Grant is flirting with time at linebacker from defensive back.

"Will's physically a dynamic guy, for sure," Veidt said. "He's got really good size and he played in four games last fall in a couple different roles, so he's got a little bit of game experience."

Veidt said the move for McDonald is intended to stick into fall. 

Whether it will be McDonald or another player taking the third linebacker spot, they'll have the luxury of playing alongside Rose and Spears Jr. and behind a stellar defensive line that returns.

For Rose, this means he'll shift into a larger role as a leader. In his first spring at Iowa State, Rose is also looking to expand his game.

The sophomore didn't play on special teams last season due to the transition into college and adding more of a workload academically and athletically.

Now, Rose is set to try and grab a spot in a special teams role. Aside from adding special teams to his resume, Rose is attempting to channel what he learned from Harvey as a leader into his own game.

"I would just say kind of going into that role that Willie and Marcel played for me last year," Rose said on what he's trying to accomplish this spring. "Because it's kind of a quick turnaround for me because we're going to have a new guy out there at Sam (Harvey's position) for us, so I just got to take that role of helping the guys out that are at that position."

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