Oct 1, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Deshaunte Jones (8) makes a diving catch while defended by Baylor Bears safety Orion Stewart (28) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Bears beat the Cyclones 45-42. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Deshaunte Jones began turning the heads of Iowa State fans with an explosive 41-yard catch and run at TCU.
Two games after that, he’d put the head of one of the best-ever Cyclone receivers on a swivel, too.
“Against Baylor, I was just like, ‘Wow,’” star wideout Allen Lazard said of Jones, who ranked second to him in catches, yards and touchdown grabs as a freshmen last season. “I realized that he was going to be really good. He always showed flashes throughout camp and the first (few) games, but one of those catches he had versus Baylor was really eye opening to me.”
Jones caught the eye of many as a fresh-faced and lightning-quick newcomer. The 5-10, 175-pounder turned five catches into gains of 41 yards or more. He averaged 14.5 yards per reception and showcased his quarterback’s arm a couple times.
What’s next? More growth, more field stretching, maybe even more passes? Stay tuned on the latter front.
“Every once in a while I joke around with (offensive coordinator Tom Manning) and even with (running back) David (Montgomery), too, because he played quarterback too,” Jones said with a smile. “Just if we ever get that package in we always joke about it.”
No joke: Jones is primed for a breakthrough in his second season in cardinal and gold.
One late Friday night, receivers coach Bryan Gasser spied Jones and Montgomery — longtime friends from Cincinnati — catching darting footballs from the JUGS machine.
Why put in the extra time? Jones shrugs at that question. He simply works — a lot.
“Just wanting to be better than everybody else,” said Jones, who totaled 43 or more yards receiving in eight games last season. “I think the little things like that separate you from everybody else and me and David, we’re from the same city and stuff like that. We grew up together and we’ve been doing that our whole lives. It’s basically normal to us.”
Jones said the Baylor breakthrough — he had four catches for 62 yards in the narrow loss to the Bears — opened his eyes to freshman-based possibilities, as well.
By then, he’d mastered the art of route running (something he hadn’t done since sophomore year of high school) and showcased vise-like hands along with his fleet feet and one-cut elusiveness.
“After the Baylor game I felt really comfortable playing on the field,” Jones said. “Things started to slow down for me and stuff and I just started to get more confidence. It just (flowed) throughout the season.”
Now Jones is looking to add even more speed to his high-velocity game. He caught 37 passes for 536 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman and expects to improve those numbers alongside Lazard, Trever Ryen, Hakeem Butler and well-regarded transfer Matt Eaton, among others that populate ISU’s deepest position group.
“I don’t know if speed is ever anything you can certainly coach, but I think game speed and competitive speed are things that we’re working on with him, along with the rest of the group,” Gasser said. “But I think Deshaunte’s got a really high ceiling. You saw last year, he led the team in explosive plays for us when you talk about plays over 20 yards and one of the most explosive freshmen in the country last year. He’s just got a great ability to extend the play after the catch and it doesn’t have to be something down the field. He’s a guy that can catch a screen or a bubble or a quick slant and take it the distance. So he’s a guy we’re certainly excited about.”
Lazard’s excited to help out. His pre-eminent personal goal remains getting the Cyclones to a bowl game for the first time since 2012. To that end, he’s mentoring Jones and others committed to returning the program to the postseason, as well.
“Just being there helping for guidance and stuff,” Lazard said. “Whenever he needs help, whether it’s school, football, footwork, whatever it is, I’m there for him.”
Jones appreciates the added support as his mission leaps from turning heads to winning more games.
“He’s actually helped me a lot,” Jones said of Lazard. “Helped me recognize coverages and stuff like. Routes — he always comes up to me and we always talk about play concepts and stuff like that, so he’s definitely really been a great leader to me.”