Davenport's Ethan Tuftee Leads ISU O-Line
By Rob Gray, Reporter
AMES The crowd roared.
The action blurred.
As Iowa State left guard Ethan Tuftee made his first career start in last season's opener against Northern Iowa, the speed of the game engulfed him.
"I really remember that film session after that first game," said the 318-pound junior from Davenport. "I didn't feel like I had a great game and I didn't. I really didn't. That was a little humbling and it really started coming around after that. It was kind of an eye-opener; just the fast pace of the game. It wasn't really the shock of the crowd which is what I was expecting."
Bright lights have never bothered Tuftee or his deep group of offensive line mates.
Nor do high expectations, which ratchet up entering the Sept. 1 season opener against Tulsa despite the loss of two current NFL players, Kelechi Osemele of Baltimore and Hayworth Hicks of Indianapolis.
"Without a doubt, it's the most depth we've had," ISU offensive line coach Bill Bleil said. "All the years I've been coaching, most of the time you hope you have a sixth offensive lineman. Right now we feel like we have way more than that. We have a number of guys we can put on the field and really contribute, not drop off."
Tuftee stands front and center among a group that paved the way for 174.2 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked 39th-best nationally.
And he's just happy to be standing.
An ACL injury limited his senior season at Davenport Assumption to three games.
He then grayshirted at ISU in 2009 after re-injuring the same knee.
He played sparingly in 2010, then started 10 games last season while battling another knee injury.
"It was just a hard luck story and, I tell you what, he kind of got thrown into the mix," Bleil said. "Ethan Tuftee's a very, very good football player. He's an excellent football player. Physically, he's as strong as we have on the team and he's got explosion. I think I had a 32 and a half inch vertical jump, which at 317 pounds is pretty good."
That would put Tuftee above the basketball rim if he were so inclined.
He, like his teammates, would rather plow than dunk, though.
So when Cyclone Coach Paul Rhoads announced his offense would "run first," suffice it to say it went over well among his beefiest players.
"Absolutely," said senior left tackle Carter Bykowski, who slides over from guard. "Grind out that clock. Get 3 or four yards a carry. That's what, 12 yards every four plays? That's all day. If we can do that, man that'll be great. I love it."
ISU coaches adore the added depth the O-line brings to this season.
And bulked up starters such sophomore center Tom Farniok who's packed on more than 20 pounds and now weighs in at 290 make excitement the buzz word for the Cyclones' front men.
Sprinkle in a clean bill of health for right guard Brayden Burris, who missed several games last season with a broken leg, and excitement morphs into outright optimism in terms of both protection and production.
"We went into last season, the first game of the year, we had three starters that hadn't had one snap," Bleil said. "And right now I'm sitting at seven or eight guys who have had at least 150 snaps. You're feeling pretty good about it."
A closer look at offensive line
The depth chart
No. 1s LT: Carter Bykowski, sr., 6-8, 303; LG: Ethan Tuftee, jr., 6-4, 318; C: Tom Farniok, soph., 6-4, 280; RG: Kyle Lichtenberg, jr., 6-6, 294, or Jacob Gannon, so., 6-7, 286; RT: Brayden Burris, sr., 6-6, 298; the rest Brock Dagel, fr., 6-8, 284; Bob Graham, soph., 6-5, 293; Oni Omoile, fr., 6-3, 284; Sam Tautolo, sr., 6-3, 304; Ben Loth, soph., 6-6, 296; Shaban Dika, soph., 6-5, 318; Jamison Lalk, fr., 6-6, 275.
Farniok's the captain and turned heads with his coolness as a true freshman last season. He's 20-plus pounds bigger this season. Tuftee is, pound for pound, ISU's strongest player. He's battled knee injuries since high school, but is healthy for 2012. Burris, offensive line coach Bill Bleil said, was playing better than anyone in his unit last season (including NFLers Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks) before he broke his leg against Texas. Lichtenberg and Gannon's battle for the starting right guard spot rages on. Both gained experience last season while filling in for injured players. Bleil said this group features the most depth of any he's coached. He began coaching in 1992. Cyclone Coach Paul Rhoads said he expects this group to be more "mistake-free."
The other guys
Tautolo's a big and able backup to Farniok when needed. Starters have talked up Graham's progress. "Some of the stuff he's done to people is just a 180, just, 'Wow,'" Farniok said. "He's really crushing it out there. Bob's really turned it on." Either Lichtenberg or Gannon if not named the starter at right guard could provide versatility filling in at various spots.