This article first ran in the Iowa State Daily on Friday, September 26, 2014. It can be found on the Iowa State Daily's website, or by following this link: http://bit.ly/ZgbYty
Ames, Iowa – In just his first year at Iowa State, freshman Allen Lazard is already excelling for the Cyclones. The Urbandale, Iowa, native and four-star recruit coming out of high school was a very high prospect for the Cyclones and many can already see why.
In his first three games, Lazard has nine catches for nearly 150 yards, the most from any receiver. But Lazard’s journey to the starting lineup was an unusual one and even slightly unexpected.
Looking Back: Lazard makes light out of a grim situation
On the fourth play of the first game of the 2014 campaign, leading receiver Quenton Bundrage went down, injuring his ACL.
Wide receiver coach Tommy Mangino hadn’t planned on losing his starting receiver just four plays into the game, but he knew he had to fill in the gap. So, in went Lazard.
“Right now I’m just worried about making myself better,” Lazard said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a good opportunity. I don’t want to play because someone gets hurt. Obviously I wish he could be on the field with us, but stuff happens in life sometimes and you just have to roll with it.”
Lazard entered the game and came up big with a 48-yard catch that put the Cyclones in position to score. Even though the team eventually fell to North Dakota State, the coaches still feel that Lazard did a good job replacing Bundrage.
“He was fully prepared to go,” Mangino said. “He was prepared to do what he needed to do. He practiced well and that’s why he was the number two. If I didn’t think he was ready, he wouldn’t have been there. But he was prepared to play a lot of snaps and he played well.”
The next week, head coach Paul Rhoads announced that Bundrage had torn his ACL and would be out for the rest of the season. After hearing the news, Mangino knew that he would have to move on and find something else that works.
“I was just focused on the next guy to go into the game,” Mangino said. “That’s all you can really think about. There’s not much else you can do. The next guy has to step up and do his job. Whether he goes down for one play or the rest of the season, you have to move on and make it work.”
Lazard has proven that he was ready to contribute, but questions still arose about whether or not he was going to step in and be as effective as Bundrage was.
But Lazard knew that he needed to keep his head up and focus on what he wanted to accomplish.
“I just want to keep listening to what the coaches say and what the older guys say and just get better,” Lazard said. “I think Quenton has been an extraordinary leader so far. Obviously he can’t do the physical part of it on the field now, but he’s definitely helped me out a lot and I’m sure he’ll continue to do the same.”
When week two rolled around, Lazard was listed on top of the depth chart and got his first start at Iowa State. He finished the game with three catches for 42 yards and caught his first touchdown pass.
“It’s his want to be good, his desire to be great that separates him,” Mangino said. “Nothing is ever good enough for him. He never thinks that he’s doing enough, but you just have to tell him that he is. He’s a freshman and he’s got a lot to learn, a lot of football to play. But he’s done a great job stepping up and playing a lot of plays that he probably didn’t think he was going to this summer.”
It’s not just the coaches who have noticed his improvement. Even quarterback Sam Richardson feels comfortable throwing to Lazard and knows that he can get the job done.
“They’re growing as receivers and I think Allen especially so,” Richardson said. “He’s one of those guys that is going to get tremendously better by the end of the season. He’s making the plays in front of him and the times he hasn’t, he’s come back with a great response from them. He’s a guy that is going to continue to grow.”
Lazard then went on to catch the ball five times in the Iowa game the following week, his highest reception total this season. Lazard finished the game with 53 total yards.
With Lazard starting to get in a groove on offense, it’s no surprise for teammates to see Lazard so comfortable out on the field. It’s how he’s handled the adversity that has some impressed.
“We knew he was going to be confident coming in with him being so highly recruited,” Richardson said. “I think that his composure is something that’s a little bit surprising. There have been some plays that have been iffy and he hasn’t gotten down at all, so that’s a great upside for him.”
Looking ahead: Baylor and beyond
When the No. 7 Baylor Bears take the field at Jack Trice Stadium on Sept. 27, they do so allowing an average of only nine points from opponents this season.
While he acknowledges that this is a big challenge to go up against, Mangino is sticking to his guns.
“We just need to play our game,” Mangino said. “I told those guys we have to challenge every defense we play, and we're going to need to do that Saturday. We need to do the things that we know how to do to put pressure on them and make them defend us.”
The biggest key for the offense is going to be the need to score a lot of points and the coaches know it. But according to Richardson, he has full confidence in his receivers to get the job done.
“We just have to put up points,” Richardson said. “You have to score because that’s what their offense is going to do. You have to match them and just try to keep their offense off the field as much as possible. We’re going to need to take the opportunities when we get them and make the big plays when we can.”
One of the main targets for Richardson will once again be Lazard. With the Cyclones facing a team as talented as Baylor, Lazard knows that he just needs to keep things simple in order to be successful.
“It’s still the same old game of football,” Lazard said. “There are still 11 guys on the field. Obviously it’s going to be a lot faster, and it’s not like practice. But you just have to scale the game back and things will come to you. Just keep it simple.”