Ferch’s fresh start

AMES – “New” has been the common theme for former West Marshall standout Drake Ferch as he begins his final collegiate football season.

The Iowa State senior has a new position and a new opportunity to shine for the Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium this season. And his brother Dalton and friend Tysen Streeter are no longer on the Cyclones’ roster, which gives Drake new surroundings on and off the field.

But the two-time Iowa Newspaper Association Class 2A first-team all-state selection and the 2008 Times-Republican All-Area Football Player of the Year is looking forward to his final chance to show the nation what he can do. And he is hoping to help the Cyclones bounce back from a 3-9 record along the way.

“3-9 last year was rough,” said Drake Ferch, now a linebacker for the Cyclones. “It’s never fun to not go to a bowl game. We are hungry and ready to improve. We didn’t show out on our homefield last year, either, and that hurt.”

Ferch changed positions a week before spring practices began and he catapulted himself into the two-deep preseason depth chart. He will begin the season as a starting linebacker when the Cyclones are in their nickel packages.

The switch has been good for Ferch, who will still begin the season as a preferred walk-on. The position change was triggered by Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham because Ferch plays well in space and is better the closer he gets to the line of scrimmage.

“A lack of athleticism at one and an increase at another,” said Rhoads when asked why they decided to move Ferch from safety to linebacker. “He couldn’t do the things capable to get him on the field and allow us to win before, but he can do that at linebacker.

“He’s a tough guy. That was never a problem. So much of our season is played in space and he plays in space very well.”

Ferch shined on the gridiron during his days at West Marshall, scoring 76 touchdowns as the Trojans’ feature tailback from 2007-09. He ranks 19th all-time in the state of Iowa in career rushing yards with 5,316.

After high school, he took his talents to Iowa Western before joining Dalton at Iowa State two seasons ago. Drake played in 11 games – mostly on special teams – last year and had three tackles while earning his first Cyclone letter.

That role will most certainly expand in 2014 as he sits behind only one other Cyclone at his SAM linebacker position – returning starter Jared Brackens, who was third on the team last year with 61 tackles.

“The closer he gets to the line of scrimmage, the better he was going to be able to help us,” said Burnham. “He wasn’t a safety. That’s the bottom line. He’s smart, he studies and he learns quickly.

“If you look at him, a lot of people will say ‘he’s not the guy.’ But every time you turn on the tape, he’s right where he’s supposed to be. He’s making plays. If you can’t trust a guy, it’s hard to put him out on the field. We have total trust in Drake.”

Cory Morrissey was Ferch’s teammate at Iowa Western. He now joins him at Iowa State where he will be a starter at defensive end. Morrissey likes how Ferch has adjusted to his new position and expects big things from the former Trojan standout.

“He has adjusted really well,” Morrissey said. “He has taken over this summer. He knows what to do. I think he will have a big year.”

Ferch will have to have a big season with his brother Dalton and friend Streeter not on the field with him. Both decided in the offseason to step away from the Cyclones’ program.

“Tysen is still my roommate so he will still be around. He already has jobs lined up and just felt like football was getting to be too much,” said the eldest Ferch, whose youngest brother Duncan is in his first season at Northern Iowa. “It’s more different at home with Dalton not being here. He’s not there to get me riled up. No one pushes my buttons like he does. I’ll miss him not being here, but we’re pretty close. You notice him not being there, but I still have a lot of friends here.”

Some of those friends will try to work with Drake to return to a bowl game this season. It won’t be easy, but it may be easier than in past seasons. The Big 12 will start with only three teams ranked in the Associated Press’ preseason top 25, with Oklahoma (4) and Baylor (10) sitting in the top 10.

“We have a great fan base and for us not to win very many games at home last year was frustrating,” said Ferch. “They deserve more wins and we deserve more wins. The goal is win a bowl game. We just want to take it day by day and see where we sit.”

Ferch played the SAM linebacker position on the Cyclones’ scout defense during Drake’s redshirt season two years ago. So there was some familiarity with the change. And so far so good, according to the former Iowa Western Reiver.

“Most of the teams we play used that position. I did well then. They bumped me down and I like it. I’ve adapted quick and I’ve enjoyed it,” said Ferch. “We need someone more mobile to run with the wide receivers. It’s basically a big safety.”

It’s the final chance for Ferch. He has one more season to show what he is capable of between the lines. And walk-on or not, he intends to leave his mark on the ISU program in 2014.

“It’s been the same for me the past three years,” said Ferch. “I am here to play for these guys. If there’s a scholarship to have, it’d be nice, but at the same time I am not losing any sleep over it.”