ISU tight end Dylan Soehner (89) blocks downfield in a game against Oklahoma. (Photo courtesy Cyclones.com)
AMES — The position requires skill, toughness, and savvy.
In many ways, it’s a thankless spot on Iowa State’s football team — heavy on responsibility, light on glory.
And in the past couple seasons, that suited former Cyclone ‘F’ back Sam Seonbuchner just fine.
“I take the most pride in blocking for the running backs and the quarterbacks,” Seonbuchner, who retains pro football hopes, said last season. “It’s felt better when I’ve led blocked on a couple of (David Montgomery’s) touchdowns than when I was in the end zone. It just says a lot about this team because that’s how everyone is. Everyone wants everyone else to be successful and when a team’s like that, you’re gonna see success.”
ISU certainly has seen just that in seasons two and three of the Coach Matt Campbell era.
The Cyclones have notched back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time in program history.
Part of the reason for that unprecedented growth stems from the development of players such as Seonbuchner, who once was a journeyman scholarship athlete in search of a position.
Now ISU’s coaches are trying to find a similar “diamond in the rough” and may treat the ‘F’ spot as one that can be fulfilled by committee.
“I think we’ve put some bodies there,” tight ends coach Alex Golesh said. “Ben Latusek has done a really, really good job. I think we’ve plugged Dylan (Soehner) there but I think Dylan can do so much more, He’s so different. Ben Latuskek’s done a really good job. We moved Conner Greene there. He’s done a good job of growing in that spot. Jared Rus — the “Rus Bus” — came in and played running back, we moved him there, he’s gained some weight. I think we’re trying to put body types there. Gage Gunnerson is there. We’re kind of force feeding a bunch of guys to see who can help us. We used Kamilo (Tongamoa) there a little bit last year, too, on the goal line. Maybe there’s that guy — I’ve lobbied a little bit there. I’ll keep that secret between me and (defenisve line) coach (Eli) Rasheed.”
Ooh, spring secrets. Who doesn’t love those? But it’s no secret that Seonbuchner’s abilities greatly boosted ISU’s running game a year ago — and someone else at the ‘F’ spot, or some version of it, must step up and continue that trend.
“You watch last year’s cut ups and even the year before, (Seonbuchner) was such an integral part of what we did,” newly-returned offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “Sam, along with David, we believe he is what we believe Iowa State football is. Just tough and plays the game the right way, so anytime you miss a guy like that it’s really hard, but that’s college football. You’ve got to play the next year and get new guys and try to shape those guys into doing the same thing.”
Hence the wide-ranging approach to replacing his talents.
Soehner, at 6-7 and 271 pounds, stands front and center in a sense, but his diverse skill set means he’ll likely be used in a variety of ways — in the run game and flexed out as a potential pass catcher.
Golesh said Soehner possesses “freakish tendencies,” which only adds to a deeply talented room that features downfield threats in Chase Allen and Charlie Koler.
“Dylan’s so intriguing because he’s different from Sam,” Manning said. “He has some of the same physicality, but a different body type. Dylan, he’s a huge dude. So we’re finding different things that Dylan can do and Dylan’s also a really good pass catcher, so you have to find ways to utilize him and try to create edges and create different gaps and things like that.”
Soehner’s done it all while learning the ropes in his first two seasons as a Cyclone.
He’ll continue to develop and evolve along with the tight end group — whether that means lining up often in the ‘F’ spot, or something different.
“We’re kind of getting away from maybe even calling it the ‘F,’” Soehner said. “It’s kind of just the ‘Y’ at this point. It’s definitely more by committee. We all bring something different. I think we definitely complement each other in that way and we’ll have the trust in coaches that they’ll have the right guy in in the right situation.”
So there is no “replacing” Seonbuchner. It’s all about adapting to fresh possibilities and realities. Campbell frequently says he crafts scheme to fit personnel — and not the other way around — and having a dynamic group of tight ends makes that an exciting proposition for 2019 and beyond.
“I’m trying to grow my hair out, because maybe if I grow my hair as long as Sam’s was I’ll start to hit harder,” Allen said. “But Dylan really was coming along at the end of last season, of being a powerhouse in the run game, so he’s gonna develop there as well, but that’s something we’ve all got to take on our shoulders as a group, because (when) it’s fourth down, we can’t just put Sam in the game. We’ve gotta muscle up and have some pride.”