Changing of the Guard
AMES, Iowa - With each season comes a new identity for the Iowa State football team. A handful of seniors graduate and their positions are filled by incoming recruits. Another transition occurs with the selection of new team co-captains.
The 2010 season showcased a crew of senior leaders representing both sides of the ball. Austen Arnaud, Alexander Robinson and Ben Lamaak from the offense and Rashawn Parker and Michael O'Connell on defense led the Cyclones.
This week, the team will return to Ames to begin its summer classes and offseason workouts with a new look. Five new captains have replaced the seniors that led last year's squad to wins over Texas and Texas Tech. Seniors Kelechi Osemele, Darius Darks, Stephen Ruempolhamer and Ter'Ran Benton accompanied by the lone junior, Jake Knott, were voted by their teammates to captain the Cyclone ship in 2011. Being elected co-captain by your teammates is one of college football's greatest honors.
Headlining the group is Osemele, an All-American candidate on the offensive line. According to ESPN draft guru Todd McShay, the redshirt senior is a projected first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Chad Reuter of NFLDraftScout.com and Andrew Perloff of SportsIllustrated.com concur on Osemele's draft prospects and echo their predictions for Osemele's bright future.
"Kelechi has earned the right to be a captain," Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads said.
Osemele is the backbone of a group that will have to replace two seniors upfront on the o-line in Lamaak and Alex Alvarez.
"It means my team trusts me to lead and to battle every Saturday," Osemele said. "With my experience, my teammates can look to me to lead by example from the aggressive way I play. It's a real honor to be named a captain."
Osemele's fellow co-captain on offense is Darks. Darks leads by example. Despite battling through multiple injuries over the past two seasons, the wide out returns as the team's receiving leader. Darks looks to build off his 29 catches for 355 yards and one touchdown from last season. He is an integral part of Iowa State's spread offense which utilizes multiple skill players.
"It's rare in today's age to see kids 21-and 22-years-old stand up and get after people the same age," Rhoads said. "Darius isn't afraid to do that. People respect Darius Darks."
The defensive side of the ball includes a strong core of players who have all seen ample time on the field. One of those individuals is Stephen Ruempolhamer, who Rhoads calls "the most developed of any player on the team." Demonstrating his knowledge, strength and speed at nose guard, he is a two-year starter. Born in Holland, "Dutch" clogs the middle and anchors the defensive line.
"It's a real honor and a blessing to be chosen as a captain," Ruempolhamer said. "It's always a surprise because you never know who your teammates picked. When my name was announced I was sweaty, nervous and excited all at the same time. It's a real privilege."
Seen recently in a parody of "National Lampoon's Vacation" with Rhoads, Benton binds together the secondary with his play and vocal leadership. Primarily used as a nickel corner last season, Benton will fill the shoes of O'Connell or David Sims at one of the safety positions this season. His communication skills will be beneficial.
"Ter'Ran brings energy to the captain position," Rhoads said. "He's a very hard working player who has mastered three positions. Knowledge, work ethic and personality puts him in a great position to lead our football team."
Finishing off the captains list is Knott, the first captain since Austen Arnaud in 2009 to be selected as a junior.
"(Being elected co-captain as a junior) affirms the credibility and respect he has on this football team," Rhoads said.
Knott was the team leader in tackles with 130 last season, en route to second-team All-Big 12 honors. Combine that with four interceptions and he puts his name out as one of the top producing linebackers nationally.
"If I have to, I'll be that "rah-rah" guy but I think it's just as important to see someone doing it the right way rather than just hearing how to do something," Knott explained. "When it comes to being a leader, your year doesn't matter. Leaders come in all shapes and forms. I get to be that person and steer my teammates in the right way so we can win a bowl game."
Look for a new personality from the football team in the fall. With many leaders on the field, the squad will look for the captains to step up as vocal leaders in the locker room.