AMES — A chilly mist fell on the high school practice field just after 6 a.m. on a September morning, 2019. Determined West Sioux football players were training for a season that they hoped would result in a trip to the Class 1-A state championship game.
One of the biggest and strongest players in this powerhouse trotted over to me, mist still enveloping us both. We talked about the prospects for the season. We talked about his family. And finally we got to the reason why this might be my first ever visit to Hawarden.
Hunter Dekkers was on his way to the state of Iowa. I wanted to meet the guy who would be the heir to Brock Purdy – the guy who would probably replace the best quarterback in Cyclones history.
“That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to – learning as much as I can from Brock,” I recall Dekkers telling me during that interview.
Dekkers knew his place then, just as he knows now that he will be the first quarterback without the Purdy name to start a game in Iowa State since Kyle Kempt in 2018.
If Trevor Downing snaps the first shot — interestingly, his first as a season-opening center — the guy on the other end will usher in a new era of football in the state of Iowa.
“Brock did a great job mentoring me — preparing me for this moment,” Dekkers said at Iowa State Media Day on Tuesday. “I don’t feel any pressure to replace him because I know I’ll never play like him.”
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The strong-armed left-hander (Purdy was right-handed) has been preparing for this season for a long time. He spent additional sessions in the movie room with Purdy and quarterback coach Joel Gordon — before Purdy became the San Francisco 49ers’ seventh-round NFL draft pick. He studied, then studied again, and that’s just the mental side.
What Dekkers did to his body in collaboration with strength coach Dave Andrews and nutritionist Rachel Voet is off the charts. How else do you explain a 50-pound weight loss since you arrived on campus as a freshman? Why would he lose 20 pounds between Media Day 2021 and Media Day 2022?
Because he knew that offense would be his at some point.
“The guy was great,” cornerback Tayvonn Kyle said of the player sitting next to him at an interview table. “Look at him. He looks great.”
Looks great. Feels good. That’s the idea for the strong farm kid from Northwest Iowa.
“Bigger, stronger and faster,” said Dekkers, who carries 206 pounds on his muscular 6-foot-3-inch frame. “I’ll use that to my advantage whenever I have to.”
Running or throwing, Dekkers is unlike Purdy, who played at 6-1 and 220 pounds. Who gets the call on third-and-goal from the one-yard line, Dekkers, or 220-pound backlog Jirehl Brock?
“I’m better than that,” Jirehl said, laughing.
I asked Dekkers the same question. After going the diplomatic route, he finally opened up – a little bit.
“If I had to choose one, I would say me,” said Dekkers.
He’s the highest-ranking quarterback recruit in Iowa state history — or at least since the star system wowed everyone in the early 2000s. His seven-game career included 25 of 43 passes for 311 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. It includes seven rushes for 73 yards and one touchdown. He completed 11 of 16 passes and one touchdown while playing in the fourth quarter against Iowa last season.
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“Hunter is very talented,” said coach Matt Campbell. “He definitely has a strong arm. He’s got great athletic ability, but there’s a lot more to being a quarterback than that.
“It’s the big picture. And it’s the whole mystery, and what’s going to be really fun is seeing how much Hunter grows on offense even as we get through fall camp – how much he’s willing to evolve and really ready to capture something it takes to play the quarterback position at this level.”
Dekkers is confident he’ll be ready by the Sept. 3 opener against Southeast Missouri at Jack Trice Stadium. Everyone is confident.
“One of the last things Brock told me was that he hopefully taught me how to deal with both the good and the bad,” Dekkers said. “That was interesting for me. It was very well worded.
“There will be some differences, like safe vertical play, but there’s more to it than that. This is how you deal with all situations. Brock was very good at that.”
He will become the first Iowa State to make the first Iowa State snap in a season opener since Joel Lanning in 2016. He replaces a man who rewrote Iowa State’s quarterback record book.
“Our family is so excited,” Hunter’s mom, Jamie, told me this week. “When Hunter takes the field as Iowa State’s starting quarterback this year, there will be a flood of emotions. Just thinking about it makes me nervous, excited. We are all very proud.
“To see Hunter have the opportunity to do what he loves, surrounded by the best teammates and coaches and in front of all the amazing fans from the state of Iowa is mind-blowing.”
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson began his 50th year as a sports writer for the Des Moines Register in December 2021. You can reach him at [email protected], 515-284-8132 and on Twitter at @RandyPete.