Freshmen redshirt at Iowa State. That's just what they do. Nigel Tribune was the only member of the 2013 class to play a snap last season, the first true frosh since 2012 to see the field. Kamari Cotton-Moya would have joined him, but he tore his Achille's in fall camp. Ifs and buts.
As the Cyclones' offensive line bumbled around, surrendering sacks and playing turnstile for the d-linemen of the Big 12, and as Chris Klenakis' group suffered one injury after another, the fan base began pining for another true freshman — Jake Campos — to pull off that red shirt and get his ass out there.
The former four-star recruit was nowhere close to being ready.
"Last year I was light," Campos said Monday. "It would've been tough."
How light? Two-hundred and sixty pounds, he says. Or: 25 less than he is now and 35 less than he hopes to be at by August.
Campos and the rest of his beef mates are scrapping what they learned under Klenakis, who bolted to Louisville to join friend Bobby Petrino. Gone are the swinging arms, the switching tackles. New line coach Brandon Blaney brings a fresh scheme, the big difference being the kick slides in pass protection.
Whereas Klenakis had his players in a "45" set (horizontal step), Blaney uses a vertical set, getting his guys immediately going backward. It's harder to implement, but the results should pay off.
"You kind of control more of their rush than them controlling it," Campos, a former star at Valley High in West Des Moines, explained.
Going against Cory Morrissey every day in practice, Campos will take any possible edge. Entrenched left tackle Brock Dagel is out for the spring after a teammates' cleat slit his leg open and the stitches became infected. Dagel is robbed of time to perfect Blaney's system, but at least it provides Campos — Scout.com's No. 19 tackle in 2013 — the snaps to get better.
And against an ox like Morrissey, you best be getting better.
"He's gonna be one of the most elite ends in the Big 12," Campos said of Morrissey, an honorable mention all-conference player in 2013. "That's been really tough but it's been really fun. I can tell I'm getting a whole lot better. Every single practice I'm taking big steps."
Head coach Paul Rhoads said the 6-foot-7 Campos is at the adolescent stage in his development where each practice brings improvement — the Campos who walks off the field at 6:30 p.m. is a better model than the one who arrived at 4.
"At this point, he's playing like a freshman, which is OK because he's playing against a kid that could be a second-team, first-team, All-Big 12 player," Rhoads said. "That's who he's having to block and pass-protect against. It's helping him grow up fast."
When the Cyclones conclude spring practice in a couple days, Campos will get to packing on the pounds, aiming for 295 by the start of camp in August. A change to right tackle might be in his short-term future, but it'll take a big effort to displace senior Jacob Gannon.
Campos worked with the second-teamers at left tackle before Dagel's injury.
"I don't know what's gonna happen there," Campos said. "I'm pretty comfortable going either side but right now they're pretty much the same schematically."
Blaney will find his starting five for the Aug. 31 kick against North Dakota State. The Cyclones are banking on the fact that 2013 was an aberration, when 10 different linemen started a game, with nine starting o-line combos in 12 games.
Assuming the plague of biblical proportions takes this season off — hordes of frogs, swarms of locusts and sprained MCLs — it'll still be a godsend to have an able Campos available.
"I think he'll be at a position to offer us depth," Rhoads said.
That's the worst-case scenario, at least for Campos. But don't forget that last season the Cyclones replaced senior Kyle Lichtenberg after one game with Dagel, then a redshirt sophomore, and never looked back.
"His overall ceiling is so high," Rhoads said of Campos. "Who knows by August 31?"