The 2020 season has no shortages of things that bring excitement to Iowa State football and the loyal fans supporting from around the world.
The Cyclones return one of the best quarterbacks in the country in junior Brock Purdy and sophomore running back Breece Hall, who's coming off a breakout freshman year. The tight ends have the deepest and the most talented depth charts Iowa State football has seen in years.
On the other side of the ball, Iowa State returns some of the staples of the Cyclones’ defense in recent years, including the return of redshirt senior JaQuan Bailey, who is set to break school records this season, and the big-time addition of junior college (JUCO) product Latrell Bankston on the defensive line.
Even with having all of this, one area that’s been receiving high praise is Iowa State’s wide receiver core.
Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell hasn’t been shy to give his praise to the receiving core Iowa State is going to bring into the 2020 season.
“I think that room is collectively as talented as we’ve had since we’ve been here and that’s just top to bottom,” Campbell said.
Over the last couple of seasons, it’s almost become a tradition for Iowa State to find its next big receiver after losing their top receivers, whether it be to graduation or the NFL Draft.
Hakeem Butler stepped up big time in the 2018 season after Iowa State dealt with the loss of one of the best receivers in school history, Allen Lazard, who led Iowa State in receptions (71), yards (941) and touchdowns (10) in Iowa State’s 2017 season that was capped off with an AutoZone Liberty Bowl win.
After the 2018 season, Iowa State had to find a way to replace Butler, who declared for the NFL Draft after leading the Cyclones in receptions (60), yards (1,318) and touchdowns (9). This is where they looked to former Arkansas transfer La’Michael Pettway and redshirt senior Deshaunte Jones.
Pettway and Jones stepped up to be the team's top two receivers and combined for 131 receptions, just over 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns during Iowa State’s 2019 season.
But now heading into the 2020 season, Iowa State is looking to find replacements for Pettway and Jones, who both graduated after the 2019 season.
The Cyclones still return some familiar faces in guys like Tarique Milton and Landen Akers, as well as some of the younger guys on the roster that saw some action over the course of the season like Sean Shaw Jr., Joseph Scates and Darren Wilson Jr.
Milton started all 13 games last season alongside Pettway and Jones. He was second on the team in receiving yards with 722 yards and fourth in receptions with 35 catches on the year.
Now a redshirt junior, Milton will likely be one of Iowa State's top receivers in 2020 and will provide some major speed to a wide receiver depth chart dominated by height.
One guy that’s steeping himself up to be one of the viable options out wide and has received high praise from teammates and coaches is JUCO product Xavier Hutchinson.
“I think the thing for me that I love about Xavier is he wants to be great and he works like he wants to be great and those two things sometimes don’t always go hand in hand, but for Xavier, it does,” Campbell said.
“I had a lot more time to put my head into the playbook to understand everything that’s going on.” – Iowa State WR Xavier Hutchinson on not having a spring season🌪️🚨🌪️ pic.twitter.com/AvwBDoHaG1— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) August 29, 2020
Hutchinson committed to the Cyclones after coming off his sophomore season with the Blinn College Buccaneers, where he put up 47 receptions, 652 yards and five touchdowns, which was good enough to earn him First-Team All-Conference honors.
Coming off his two seasons at Blinn, Hutchinson was marked as a three-star recruit by both 247Sports and Rivals, as well as being ESPN’s No. 10 best JUCO receiver. Hutchinson ultimately chose Iowa State over the likes of Nebraska, Syracuse and even a fellow Big 12 foe in Oklahoma.
The decision to come to Iowa State and play for Campbell and the Cyclones is one Hutchinson thinks very highly of.
“It’s been great, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Hutchinson said. “Like I said before I even came here, this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Going into the 2020 season, Hutchinson will be a junior, which already makes him one of the oldest and more experienced receivers in Iowa State’s predominantly young receiver room.
Much like Campbell, Hutchinson vouched for talent that can be found at the receiver position for the Cyclones.
“I think everyone has done a tremendous job and everyone’s really excelled and getting better and better each day,” Hutchinson said. “We could talk about Sean Shaw, Tarique [Milton], Joe [Scates], Darren Wilson, Daniel [Jackson], Landen [Akers], I mean the list can just go on and on, everyone's really shown me what they can do and I’m just really impressed by everybody.”
Another likely candidate to take a big step forward after showing some flashes in the 2019 season is redshirt sophomore Sean Shaw Jr.
Shaw only caught 15 passes through the 11 games he appeared in, but within those 15 receptions, five of them were for touchdowns, including a two-touchdown performance in Iowa State’s 72-20 blowout win over Louisiana-Monroe.
Shaw’s five touchdown receptions were the third most on the team, only behind tight end Charlie Kolar’s seven touchdown receptions and Pettway’s six touchdown receptions.
Iowa State’s receiving core also features a plethora of freshmen and redshirt freshmen that can also come in and provide some production for Purdy and the Cyclone offense.
Campbell has credited some of the freshmen that have come in with bringing great competition to the receiver position and that the competition is benefiting all of the receivers vying for a starting spot.
“I go against [Xavier Hutchinson] and Daniel Jackson every day and the tight ends,” redshirt senior defensive back Lawrence White said. “[Xavier Hutchinson] brings in a lot to the table, helps that group out a lot and Daniel Jackson is another person that really wowed me from seeing him at practice, just making plays all over the field.”
Iowa State’s roster includes 15 wide receivers and of those 15 receivers, seven of them are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
Purdy will have no shortage of targets to pass to come Sept. 12, especially with a tight end group that’s also loaded with talent, led by All-Big 12 selection Charlie Kolar.
But when it comes to those lining up out wide for the season opener against Louisiana, the Cyclones will especially have no shortages of receivers.
“I’ve always said this, when there is depth and there’s competition, the best will come out of those who rise to the top,” Campbell said. “We’re really fortunate in that position group right now that you have a lot of competition going on in a day in, day out basis.”