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Iowa State edges No. 19 Memphis 21-20 in Liberty Bowl

Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler (18) runs away from Memphis defenders Tim Hart (35) and Jonathan Cook (14) on the way to a 52-yard touchdown during last season's Liberty Bowl.

AP PHOTO

AMES — The best receiver in Iowa State football history, Allen Lazard, has graduated and is likely moving on to play in the NFL.

Also missing are 513-yard receiver Marchie Mudock and 469-yard receiver Trever Ryen due to graduation.

But Iowa State is confident it has the players needed to reload, not rebuild, the receiving corps.

“We’re stacked with tremendous talent,” receiver Matt Eaton said. “We’re obviously going to miss Allen, Trever and Marchie, but this group of receivers has crazy talent all over. Y’all can definitely expect an explosive group.

“We’re going to try and be the best in the country.”

It starts with 6-foot-6 Hakeem Butler, who was second on last year’s team with 697 receiving yards. He also reeled in seven touchdown passes.

Before last season, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said Butler was the most talented receiver on the team — more talented than even Lazard — and he showed it at times last season.

Now, with Lazard gone, Butler is tasked with being “the man.”

“I think Hakeem, for us, first and foremost has to figure out what his role is going to be,” receivers coach Bryan Gasser said.

Last season, Butler spent most of the time in the slot, which was a mismatch nightmare for linebackers and safeties over the middle.

The coaching staff is tasked with figuring out whether or not to move Butler to the outside.

“Hakeem’s skill set is certainly different than what we played at the X position a year ago when you talk about Allen,” Gasser said. “Even though both of those guys have size, Hakeem is built a little bit differently. Making some of the contested catches that you’ve seen Allen make in the past, being able to be a go-to guy in one-on-one critical situations – those are some situations we have to put (Butler) in this spring to see if he can do it.”

Outside of Butler, Iowa State returns familiar names such as Eaton and Deshaunte Jones.

Eaton was a junior college transfer last season who started the season banged up, but his production increased as he got healthier. Eaton finished the season with 208 yards and four touchdowns.

Jones, on the other hand, had a stellar true freshman campaign, hauling in 37 passes for 536 yards and six touchdowns. Last season, he only had 28 receptions, 273 yards and no touchdowns. The emergence of Ryen took some targets away from him.

Gasser doesn’t have any doubt he’ll see an improved Jones next season.

“A lot of credit goes to this kid,” Gasser said. “From the time we got back from the bowl game to the time we started spring practice he has really redefined himself.”

Gasser said Jones changed his eating habits, sleeping habits and really invested in his craft.

“During our winter workouts, he’s one of the guys we felt had the biggest improvements from a year ago to this year,” Gasser said. “We’re definitely excited about Deshaunte and how he’s been able to bounce back from a year that some guys would maybe be disappointed with. But he’s come back stronger than we’ve ever seen him before.”

Beyond the three veterans, Iowa State’s receiving room is full of untapped talent.

Players like redshirt freshman Tarique Milton, redshirt freshman Josh Johnson, redshirt sophomore Landen Akers and redshirt sophomore Jalen Martin all get mentioned as potential breakout players.

“There were a lot of good players that didn’t get a ton of snaps,” Gasser said. “Jalen Martin and Landen Akers probably, any other given year, would’ve seen the field, but fortunately for us, we were very deep and had a lot of guys going out there and making plays for us.

“This spring is all about going out there and having these guys show us what their best looks like,” Gasser said.

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