AMES — The lights in Marcel Spears’ head started to go on in the dead of winter.
He hadn’t found the role he hoped for on the Iowa State football team and was about to head into spring ball searching for answers. A meeting with defensive coordinator Jon Heacock not only gave him answers, but lit a fire under him.
“He said a couple words to me that really hit me in my heart and made me want to be an impact player on this team,” Spears said.
The redshirt sophomore wouldn’t divulge details of the conversation, but kept it in the back of his mind and has used it in his first two games as a starting linebacker. Spears had a game-high 17 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in the Cyclones’ 44-41 overtime loss to Iowa.
“Marcel was just being himself,” said senior linebacker Joel Lanning, who was second on the team with 11 tackles with a tackle for loss. “He was out there playing, and that’s the type of player he is. So energetic and just plays fast all the time. He made a lot of tackles and that’s what we needed from him.”
Spears’ biggest series came late in the third quarter after Iowa State (1-1) cut its deficit to 21-17. He popped Iowa running back Akrum Wadley three-straight plays, forcing a Hawkeyes’ (2-0) punt, which led to Iowa State regaining the lead on a 30-yard touchdown reception by Hakeem Butler.
“(Spears’) spring was so good that he needed to be a starter on our football team and needed to play max reps,” sad Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell. “I’m really proud of what he’s done. I thought the first two games he’s been outstanding.”
Having a career game, particularly in a loss, gives Spears perspective on what his role can be. Miscues and simple details ultimately undid Iowa State on Saturday, and Spears knows how to use that as a learning opportunity.
“In my head, just telling myself, ‘Just keep working,’” Spears said. “‘Just don’t stop working until the clock hit all zeroes.’ That’s what motivated me.”
Butler turned in a career day too with five catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Iowa State used him on the outside and slipped him through the middle of Iowa’s defense, which is where he made his 30- and 74-yard touchdown grabs.
“I’ve always known my potential and me as a person,” Butler said. “Other people have seen it also. It’s just me being able to reach it. Potential, you have to get there and I’m just trying to get there.”
Montgomery continues ascension
A week after pushing Iowa State past Northern Iowa late in the first half, sophomore running back David Montgomery had 112 rushing yards on 20 carries with a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 53 yards.
He drew comparisons to former Toledo and current Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt earlier this week — Campbell coached him with the Rockets.
“David is just a monster,” said quarterback Jacob Park. “We don’t think he’s human.”
Iowa State missed senior safety Kamari Cotton-Moya on the 46-yard touchdown run by Iowa’s Akrum Wadley late in the fourth quarter.
Cotton-Moya exited early in the second half with a shoulder injury. Campbell said the extent of it is unknown, but doesn’t think “it’s a lengthy injury.”
“We’ll re-evaluate it afterward, see the potential to get him back next week (against Akron),” Campbell said. “If not, sooner rather than later. But I don’t think it’s a length injury by any stretch of the imagination.”