As the play unfolded, it was a surprise to everyone, including the man with the football in his hands.
Nothing but green grass lay ahead of Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage when he passed the Cyclones’ 40-yard line with Texas cornerback Duke Thomas and safety Mykelle Thompson in hot pursuit. But there was nothing the Longhorns duo could do to prevent the 97-yard touchdown, the longest touchdown reception in the Big 12 in 2013.
In one play Bundrage re-affirmed his confidence in his own ability and gave the rest of the conference a peek at his long-term potential.
“I didn’t think that would happen,” Bundrage said. “It made me realize what type of player I could be. That alone let me know I need to work on my game a little more.”
Bundrage was clearly the Cyclones’ top receiver as a sophomore with 48 receptions for 676 yards and nine touchdowns, which ranked third in the Big 12. Yet he enters this spring as hungry as ever after looking back on his 2013 with some disappointment due to the lack of consistency that kept him from cementing himself a spot among the Big 12’s best receivers. He had six games of three receptions or less and several dropped passes kept him from becoming a receiver that made a significant impact on every game he played last season.
“One of my big issues last year was consistency,” he said. “I had drops that weren’t characteristic for me. I wouldn’t be focused and drop easy passes that should have been caught.”
Consistency has become the highlighted word when it comes to Bundrage’s progress as a receiver. New receivers coach Tommy Mangino has challenged Bundrage, and the rest of the Cyclones receivers, to make it one of the core traits of their game.
“You can be great any day and you can be bad on any given day but if you give a consistent effort and consistent production, it’s what will set you apart from everyone else,” Mangino told his receivers earlier this week. “You can be great today but if you’re not good tomorrow, we can’t rely on you, we can’t trust you.”
Bundrage’s touchdown against Texas or two-touchdown outing against West Virginia are examples of his potential to be the centerpiece of the Cyclones’ passing game this fall. But if ISU can't count on him to make plays when he gets the opportunity it will hamper an offense that hopes to make drastic improvements this fall.
“Consistency is something that comes along with maturity,” Mangino said. “Quenton has the ability to be consistent because he works hard and gives you everything he has every day. Consistency is something I think will set him apart from other people in the league.”
Another attribute that could help the Florida native record a breakout season in 2014 is his football I.Q. Bundrage takes pride in his ability to understand the game and figure out ways to get open.
"Sometimes you just have to be a player and run to the open space, the open grass," he said. "It just comes natural to me. Knowing the game helps me because I don’t do much thinking on the field."
After joining the program in early February, Mangino has only been around him for a relatively short time, but Bundrage’s understanding of the game immediately stood out.
“You don’t see that very often,” Mangino said. “He answers questions and there’s no doubt he knows what is going on.”
If Bundrage can increase his focus, handle the demands of being the centerpiece of ISU’s passing attack and continue to develop his overall game, he could see his name alongside Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett as one of the league’s signature pass catchers and could even carve himself an NFL future.
“He understands he’s got to do everything to go to the next level,” Mangino said. “He’s not naïve to the fact he has some work to do. He’s not a finished product, but who is?”
He’s got the talent, the football knowledge and the confidence in his playmaking ability. Now, he just needs to add the consistency that could separate him from the rest.
“I can always run better routes, catch more balls, be who I am and be comfortable so when the opportunity comes I can take advantage of it,” he said. “When I look at other guys in the league and how much they’re being talked about and praised, it makes me want to get better every day.”