Big, athletic Bykowski gets special call from 49ers Saturday

 

 

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Although the San Francisco 49ers seventh round pick of Carter Bykowski might have surprised some, maybe it shouldn’t have.

Bykowski was a part of Iowa State’s 2008 recruiting class. He was listed as a 6-foot-7, 245-pound tight end on signing day. He played that position (catching three passes) for a bit but soon outgrew the position and moved to tackle.

Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers head coach, likes tight ends or at least big, athletic players.

As Stanford’s coach, Harbaugh gave scholarships to six tight ends in four seasons. All of them were between 6-4 and 6-8 and weighed roughly 235 pounds.

“I didn’t think I would be drafted,” Bykowski said. “The phone rang and I talked to Jim Harbaugh and (line coach) Mike Solari. It was a short conversation but they were very positive and I am looking forward to working in their system.”

Big guys, who can move, are desired by everyone in the NFL. That’s how Bykowski earned his shot.

In 25 years in the sports publicity business, I worked with three recruited college tight ends that had pro careers on the offensive line.

The most noteworthy was John Alt, a 12-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowl pick for the Chiefs. Chris Gambol (Iowa) and Mike Verstegen (Wisconsin) both played four years in the National Football League for multiple teams after beginning college careers at TEs.

Bykowski’s pick might have caught a few folks off guard. But, when you study his profile and potential – along with the desires of his new head coach – it’s clear he has a great opportunity in the coming months.

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Who are the richest college athletics departments in the NCAA? How are they using those riches?

 Per the most-recent data available according to the Department of Education, there were 15 schools with annual athletics budgets above $90 million. Iowa State was 61st on the budget list with revenue of $55.2 million.

 Last week, the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) released current all-sports rankings for schools across the nation.

 Iowa State was 27th on the list. Placing 34 spots higher competitively than financially means the Cyclones are using their dollars pretty wisely. ISU’s spot in the all-sports standings is third-best among Big 12 schools (trailing only Texas, 13th and Oklahoma State, 18th).

 After a strong fall in which Iowa State scored Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup points in football, women’s cross country and volleyball, the Cyclones added points from men’s & women’s basketball, wrestling and women’s track & field during the winter campaign.

 The schools with the most resources don’t always accomplish the most.

 Here is a list of those schools with annual budgets above $90 million and their current Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup rank:  Michigan (2nd), Penn State (3rd), Notre Dame (4th), Florida (6th), Georgia (12th), Texas (13th), Ohio State (19th), Wisconsin (23rd), Oklahoma (28th), Arkansas (29th), LSU (32nd), Tennessee (42nd), Auburn (47th), Alabama (64th) and Iowa (66th).

Northern climate and course familiarity boost Cyclone chances

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The Iowa State women’s golf team will be trying to do something it’s never done before. Win a Big 12 championship.

 The Cyclones will host the conference championship – for the first time since 2001 – at The Harvester in Rhodes, Iowa this weekend.

 Six of the NCAA’s Top 30 schools are in the field.

 Oklahoma (#4) is followed by a quintet of schools (Oklahoma State, 17th; Texas Tech 20th; Texas, 21st; Baylor, 23rd; and Iowa State, 28th) in a tightly bunched cluster.

 Along with the home course familiarity (ISU practices at The Harvester on occasion), the Cyclones boast a talented and deep team.

 Five different ISU players – Sasikarn On-iam (three times), Punpaka Phuntumabamrung (twice), Prima Thammaraks (once), Chonlada Chayanun (once) and freshman Cajsa Persson (once) –  have posted the team’s lowest score in a tournament this year. That kind of balance can play large in a tight race.

 Four of the Cyclones are natives of Thailand. That country also produced Oklahoma’s Chirapat Jao-Janavil, the reigning NCAA champion, who is in the field.

 Iowa State’s only league championship in women’s golf came at Lincoln, Neb., in 1993.

 Maybe, a little home cooking, course familiarity and northern climate can be deciding factors as the Cyclones embark on trying to win their first Big 12 title this weekend in Central Iowa.

 

It’s been a tug-of-war in spring and Rhoads probably likes that.

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Two spring football scrimmages are in the books and the spring game is on deck for Saturday. Most observers would conclude the offense excelled in the first scrimmage and the defense rebounded in the second one.

 For his entire tenure at Iowa State, Coach Paul Rhoads has been seeking big plays from his offense. Recently, he’s been focused on ball carriers making people miss. That was the case two weeks ago in the scrimmage and Rhoads singled out James White, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy for making explosive runs.

 Rhoads’ assessment of last week’s scrimmage was that there weren’t as many big plays.

 “I attribute that to the defense,” Rhoads said. “The defense practiced and played faster.”

 Rhoads pulled out a baseball analogy to explain the tug-of-war between offense and defense during spring camp.

 “It’s a little like pitching and hitting,” Rhoads started. “Who’s ahead and who catches up? The defense, in the third week, caught up a little bit.”

 That brought a smile to the face of the former defensive coordinator.

 “That is probably as enjoyable to see (as anything),” Rhoads said of the defense getting better at limiting big plays.

 One week the offense impressed and the next week the defense shined. That’s a good sign that the 2013 Cyclones have the potential on both sides of the ball to play winning football. The coach probably likes it that way.

 

Raised on the slopes, Fernandez now prospers on fairways

 

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Grenada, Spain, is a seaside city that rests at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is also home to the college golf’s fifth-ranked player.

Scott Fernandez, who now lives in Ames, Iowa, is a sophomore sensation on the Iowa State men’s golf team. The Spaniard is on a streak unprecedented in Cyclone history. Six of his last nine rounds have been in the 60s.

His individual finishes this season include 2nd (Northern Intercollegiate), 2nd (VCU), 3rd (Bridgestone), 3rd (UTSA), 22nd (Desert Intercollegiate), 1st (Furman), 2nd (ASU Thunderbird) and 5th (Hawkeye Invitational). At the ASU meet, he beat the NCAA’s then-No. 1 golfer (Michael Kim, Cal) by nine strokes.

Fernandez’ dad is a ski instructor. His sister is a member of Spain’s national ski team.

Scott, himself, was an accomplished skier before breaking both of his legs in that sport.

Now, he’s fully committed to golf.

 When you witness the greatness of young athletes like Fernandez, it’s easy to wonder how they crafted their skills. When you watch Fernandez stroke a putt or uncork a drive, you don’t think about ski lifts.

 But, that’s kind of where it started for Fernandez. Where it finishes, no one knows. But, I’m sure going to enjoy his journey as it unfolds.

 

McGee, like past NBA long-range bombers, accepted bench role.

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Tyrus McGee recently became the first Cyclone in history to lead the NCAA in a statistical category. His 46.4 percent conversion rate from three-point land was best in the nation.

 When Fred Hoiberg was outlining roles for his team last fall, he had to convince McGee that coming off the bench would be most beneficial to the team. Most players like to start and it would be understandable if McGee felt that way, too.

 Hoiberg, the NBA’s three-point shooting leader in 2004-05, never started a game for the Timberwolves that season. Among the last nine NBA leaders from long distance, only the Pistons’ Richard Hamilton (2005-06) started routinely.

 Steve Novak (Knicks), Matt Bonner (Spurs), Kyle Korver (Jazz), Anthony Morrow (Warriors) and Jason Kapono (Raptors then Heat), preceded Hamilton and Hoiberg as NBA leaders in three-point percentage. Only Kapono with the Heat started much (35 games).

 So, when Hoiberg sold McGee on being a spark off the bench with his uncanny ability to hit long-distance shots, the Oklahoma native accepted the role enthusiastically and then thrived.

 Given the opportunity, McGee capitalized. The reward is that his Cyclone career now includes leading the nation in a statistical category. Nice legacy.

 

Klenakis & Messingham hoping line “finishes” better this year

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The Iowa State offensive football staff and Head Coach Paul Rhoads have been seeking more of an effort to finish plays. Rhoads has said he wants plays blocked for 5-6 yards to gain much more.

 “Everybody sees the finish that a wideout or the skill guy has while making a big play,” said offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. “Not everybody notices when a lineman finishes. That’s one of the things that (new offensive line) Coach Klenakis has stressed.”

 Improving the run game is important. It requires better reads by the QB, making defenders miss in the open field and winning at the line. All factor into the result. Messingham was asked about the line’s performance recently and he talked about toughness.

 “I feel like Tommy Farniok being another year older has taken a leadership role,” Messingham said. “(He wants) his guys to be nasty, physical guys. Coach Klenakis plays right into that because that’s his personality, his leadership style.”

 Klenakis is getting lots of attention this spring because of his involvement with the creation and implementation of the pistol formation. The attitude he seeks from his playersa might have as much of an impact.

 Messingham said Klenakis sells his troops on their approach, kind of like “we’re the union, we’re the guys going to work every day and we’re going to grind. And, when a play gets done somebody is going to look over and say ‘did you see the finish that lineman just had?’”

 Most observers will celebrate the strong finish of a runner bulldozing his way into the end zone. Hopefully, you’ll see a few linemen finishing plays with a flourish this fall as well. More Cyclones will end up in the end zone if the linemen are finishing, too.

 

Coaches (Sherrill included) probably liked Saturday’s run game

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Sitting in the third row on the 40-yard line at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday was Jackie Sherrill, the former Cyclone assistant and college head coach for 27 seasons. He was in town to speak at Iowa State’s coaches’ clinic.

 Sherrill was waiting patiently to watch the team’s first spring scrimmage.

 Paul Rhoads admitted last week that he wanted to see his backs make tacklers miss.

 Sherrill probably saw his share of backs make tacklers miss. He coached eight 1,000-yard rushers in his career and also had a number of teams that that featured a couple of runners with more than 600 yards each.

 Whether it’s one, two or three productive runners doesn’t matter. It’s all about moving the chains consistently.

 The take-away from Saturday was that ISU has multiple productive ball carriers on its roster.

 Newcomer Aaron Wimberly, sophomore Devondrick Nealy and senior James White all had their moments. Runs were extended beyond what was blocked and that had to be pleasing to Rhoads.

 “Aaron (Wimberly) stood out and had a lot of productive plays,” said Rhoads. “Devondrick Nealy and James White also stood out today. Anytime you start getting elevated play by individuals with competition going on, you start getting better play out of everybody. That’s the case at running back.”

 Maybe that’s why Coach Sherrill was smiling. He must have liked what he saw, too.

 

 

Clyburn gets big candy treat for winning team MVP honors

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The Sports Information industry used to have players fill out forms answering questions like “what kind of music do you like” or “what’s your favorite candy”? They were for background information.

 The photo above of Will Clyburn holding a huge Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups reminded me of those days.

 It made me wonder if Clyburn liked the chocolate treat. Apparently, Cyburn’s Cyclone teammate Korie Lucious does. His Twitter post Friday night said: “I swear @Da_Thrill21 better give me that Reece’s.”

 The candy was Clyburn’s reward for earning west team “Perfect Player of the Game” honors in the 2013 Reese’s Division 1 College All-Star game Friday night, an event held during Final Four weekend in Atlanta.

Clyburn had 17 points and eight rebounds for his team and his college coach, Fred Hoiberg. The Cyclone head coach was in charge of the west team and it was his final time working the sidelines with Clyburn.

 It’s too bad that Clyburn and Hoiberg only got two seasons together (one of those Clyburn sat out as a redshirt) because they were a great combination.

 As coach, Hoiberg loves versatility and flexibility. As player, Clyburn has an array of talents and the ability to play four positions on the court as a match-up problem for the opponent.

 The all-star invite for both player and coach let them reunite one more time. Both men enjoyed it immensely, I’m sure.

 And, Clyburn got some candy to share with Lucious.

 

Rhoads looking for an efficient scrimmage Saturday.

Paul Rhoads met the news media after spring practice Tuesday and he was asked about the temperature of the session.

“Today, was probably our quietest practice,” the head coach said. “I thought we had a really up-tempo, urgent way about ourselves last week. I didn’t think we quite matched that today.”

You could also tell that Rhoads was looking forward to Saturday and the first scrimmage of the spring. He expects the temperature to rise then.

“It will be completely devoted to scrimmage,” he said.

What does he want to observe when his troops face off in game situations?

“Guys doing what they’re supposed to do,” Rhoads said. “That’s where it starts and it’s our #1 priority this spring. We need to become smarter, individually and collectively.”

There are always lulls in camps. But, you can expect a ramped up environment when a scrimmage take place.

It’s a good guess that on Saturday, some answers will start to emerge.