Peterson: Meet Iowa State's leaner, meaner and quicker Hunter Dekkers
AMES, Ia. — Everyone knows the real question heading into Iowa State football has nothing to do with running backs, the lines, linebackers, the kickers or the defensive backs. The real question that’s been percolating since the Cyclones beat Oregon in the New Year’s Six Fiesta Bowl is at quarterback.
Specifically, regarding backup Hunter Dekkers.
We’d heard through back channels that the lefty would look like a different player when Iowa State takes the field on Sept. 4 for the season-opener against Northern Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium. It was all cliché coming-of-age stuff associated with going from a true freshman in 2020 to a wiser sophomore in 2021, we figured.
But when the pride of West Sioux High School in Hawarden walked onto the field during media day a couple weeks ago, anyone that saw him knew immediately there was nothing cliché about Dekkers’ improvement.
After playing at roughly 250 pounds last season, the 6-foot-3 Dekkers starts the season as a trim 225-pounder. The extra weight that happened some time between Hawarden and Ames was transformed into muscle over the offseason.
"He looks like a different guy," No. 1 quarterback Brock Purdy said. "He looks good, not to say that he didn’t look good last year."
Dekkers' transformation is another testimonial to strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews. We were told All-American tight end Charlie Kolar has become "shredded" since helping Iowa State to a 9-3 record last season. We’ve heard All-American running back Breece Hall has more horsepower.
And now, Andrews’ latest potential sculpturing masterpiece is the guy that’s just one play from being the Cyclones’ top quarterback.
"Yeah, I was big last season," Dekkers told me. "Very big. Like 250 big."
"I’m 225," he said proudly. "I feel way better. Being down 25 pounds or so will make me play better."
Let’s put this into perspective: Dekkers’ web site recruiting page listed him at 225 pounds when he accepted coach Matt Campbell’s scholarship before his senior football season in 2019.
Last year: 250. This season: 225.
"Combination of bad eating — not having the right nutrition and diet," Dekkers said of what led to the temporary weight increase. "I feel really good. I’m quicker. I just feel better overall in every aspect."
Dekkers made a solid first impression in limited action last season. His first pass was a 25-yard completion to Easton Dean against Kansas. His second pass, the very next play, was a 30-yarder for a touchdown to Joe Scates. His first rush was a 12-yard touchdown against Kansas State.
And now, he’s changed his body.
"He’s trimmed himself down," quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon said. "He was never, in my opinion, out of shape. He never really looked bad, but I mean, he looks like a different guy right now.
"It’s exciting to see, the difference he and coach Andrews have made to his body."
Purdy has started 33 games, the most by an Iowa State quarterback since Bret Meyer started 48 between 2004-07. Purdy owns or shares 25 school records. He’s won 24 games, the most by a Cyclones quarterback.
He’s not only dependable, he’s also durable. As long as he can walk, he’s staying in the game. But if something should go haywire, a sleeker and trimmer Dekkers will be ready.
"(Andrews) has transformed Hunter and all the other freshmen quarterbacks," Purdy said. "Losing that body fat, and gaining the right muscle — Hunter looks a lot more explosive rolling out of the pocket. He already had great arm strength, but even that’s improved."
Dekkers’ football knowledge has improved, too. In this instance, that’s more about Purdy than Andrews.
"Just his growth from last year to now — knowing the plays, and getting more comfortable in the pocket — those are things you can see that are night-and-day differences with him," Purdy said. "Obviously, he got some reps last fall in games, and then he had a big spring, where he took a really big step forward.
"He has poise now. Before, he was just trying to learn the playbook and run the play, whereas now he’s understanding defenses and situational football."
And all that at about 25 pounds shy of when he started learning the college game.
"He’s a big guy," Gordon said. "He’s thick. He got up a little bit (in weight), but he’s doing great right now."
For Dekkers and Iowa State, each step helps. While he’s Purdy’s talented understudy this season, he’ll head into 2022 as No. 1, assuming this is Purdy’s final season.
"(Purdy) could get hurt one play into the game," Dekkers said. "I think everyone has to stay ready in the quarterback room, because anything can happen."
Dekkers’ preparation has included watching video and picking the brains of Gordon and Purdy. It included intense workouts under Andrews’ supervision, too.
"I feel better than I’ve ever felt," Dekkers said. "The work I did with coach Andrews has made me a better quarterback. I’m quicker. I’m stronger."
And he looks different, too.