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090818-Iowa-Football-055

Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Landen Akers (82) catches the ball before being hit by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Michael Ojemudia (11) during the fourth quarter of their game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City last season. Akers has moved into the slot for the Hawkeyes this season.

Nate Scheelhaase will walk the halls of the Bergstrom Football Complex and peek his head into the wide receiver room. He’s pretty sure he knows which player will be in there watching film, or breaking down the playbook. It’s almost always Landen Akers.

“That’s what I gotta do to get better every day,” Akers said. “I’m usually in there before and after to help the younger guys and help myself get a jump in all the new plays as well.”

Akers has had a more winding path to the Iowa State football team than most. He is one of only a handful of recruits that was brought in by the previous regime, and his path to the field has been slow. Now a redshirt junior, Akers is poised for more in a new position.

“It’s really exciting,” Akers said. “I remember looking up at Trever Ryen always and seeing what he did at that (‘M’ receiver) position and seeing what Deshaunte (Jones) has done now. So it’s really exciting to get in there.”

Akers has played the bulk of his career as an outside receiver, utilizing an effective combination of speed and crisp route running. He was a kickoff returner in 2017 — taking over for the injured Kene Nwangwu — but caught 10 passes for 181 yards in 13 games last season.

Now that he’s moved inside to the slot behind Jones, the need for Akers to run even cleaner routes has increased. ISU teaches all its receivers to run precise routes — direction and yardage — instead of running to open spaces, but the M’s have less room to operate as it is.

“It’s impressive just because of the power and the strength that he has. He’s a really explosive guy,” Scheelhaase, in his first year coaching the receivers, said. “That comes to life when he’s running his routes. And he’s disciplined what he’s doing.

“I think I saw even on the first day is like man, this guy’s grown a whole lot.”

Said Akers: “I didn’t know how to run like any routes when I started and I first got here. So they’ve taught me a lot. And I think I’ve grown a lot and been able to run those more difficult routes.”

Akers flashed promise as a youngster in 2017 with one catch for 34 yards, and even more so last year when he averaged 18.1 yards per catch on big-play attempts. He also had a 55-yard catch against Oklahoma State, the fifth-longest play from scrimmage last year.

Then a shoulder injury derailed the end of the season.

Akers spent a chunk of spring practices nursing his shoulder but is 100 percent healthy as ISU, which opens its season in three weeks against Northern Iowa (11 a.m./FS1), navigates preseason camp.

“I’m excited to see him grow and develop and just figure out more of the nuances,” Scheelhaase said of Akers. “Obviously, there’s more people in the box. And so figuring out how to navigate through linebackers, reading coverages, there’s a lot that you got to do. There’s a lot we require that guy to do. But he’s a learner.”

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