AMES — Back in 2016, Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell went to watch two of his recruits play against each other.
On one side it was Waterloo West quarterback Devon Moore. On the other side, it was Cedar Rapids Washington linebacker O’Rien Vance.
Both made strong impressions, especially Vance.
“He had an ankle injury and he missed the last three games,” Campbell said. “He came in and the thing I remember is, ‘Man, this kid has such an innate ability to find and track the football.’ He’s a great blitzer, he sees the field really well. He can run sideline to sideline.”
Vance is a redshirt freshman in Iowa State’s program and at the end of spring, he’s the frontrunner to earn the middle linebacker spot.
“It’s been really fun as he’s settled in,” Campbell said. “He understands the defense, he understands what is being asked of him. To see some of those qualities that you saw out of high school start to transcend into the collegiate level ... He’s a physical, strong, really talented football player.”
The biggest thing Vance needs to lock up the middle linebacker spot is consistency. This is his first time getting the bulk of meaningful reps in practice.
Vance said the reps are helping slow the game down and he’s able to dissect plays quicker.
Vance has been the beneficiary to having two veteran linebackers on either side of him. Marcel Spears burst on the scene last year by recording 107 tackles and Willie Harvey has started the last three seasons.
“It helps a lot to have veterans because if adjustments need to be made, I can learn from them,” Vance said. “They always keep me going.”
Campbell has seen Vance learn and get more comfortable as the spring has gone on.
Vance likes the middle linebacker spot because it allows him to use his physical tools to flow sideline to sideline and make plays. He also has the size at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds to get into gaps.
“It’ll be really fun to watch today’s scrimmage (on tape). It’s hard to comment without seeing the film of it, but I saw No. 34 flying around the football field,” Campbell said. “He’s hard to miss because he’s a big, physical kid. The one thing O’Rien has done, and why it was easy to talk about him early on is scrimmage No. 1, scrimmage No. 2 and every practice, that guy is making plays. You see him getting better.
“You’re asking a redshirt freshman to step into a role, whether it’s starter or playing significant minutes, those guys have to be able to put good days together.”
For Vance to get the nod, Campbell needs to see the little things. Campbell is confident in Vance’s physical tools.
“For O’Rien, it’s finishing in the classroom, it’s having a great summer, it’s all those little things that tell me as a coach, ‘Hey you’re mature. You can handle it. I can trust you when it’s November and it’s time to go win a championship,’” Campbell said. “You’re going to do the little things it takes to be successful. That’s the biggest thing for, not only O’Rien, but any of the young guys in our program, to show that we can trust them, that they can handle what we do.
“His end potential is maybe as good as anyone’s in our program. How fast can we get him there and how fast can he be that guy and how consistent can he be at that spot?
“He has some really unique traits at that linebacker position.”