Iowa State coach grateful for tackle Osemele

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads is glad to have Kelechi Osemele

blocking for the Cyclones.

At 6-foot-6 and 347 pounds, Osemele not only is the biggest

player among Iowa State’s regulars, he’s also the most highly

regarded.

”Thank goodness he’s on our side,” Rhoads said.

Osemele is listed on numerous preseason All-Big 12 and

All-America teams. He’s a marked man on the Cyclones’ offensive

line and if he isn’t taken in the first round of the NFL draft next

year, he could go shortly thereafter.

All that hype probably will motivate any defensive lineman who

stares into Osemele’s facemask and that’s fine, he says. It

motivates him, too.

”That happens with anybody that has notoriety because you have

only so many opportunities to play certain guys. It’s going to be a

motivator,” he said. ”I’ll definitely have to be on my game every

game because everybody is going to have to show what they’re made

of.

”It’s going to make me bring my `A’ game every single

game.”

Off the field, Osemele smiles and laughs easily and talks in a

big baritone voice.

On the field is a different matter. Rhoads often talks about how

Osemele manhandles opponents and stays on his block until the play

is over.

”I try to make every guy who lines up against me remember my

name,” Osemele said.

Osemele, who’s just ”KO” to his teammates, long ago learned

the value of a strong work ethic.

His family moved from Nigeria to Texas, where Osemele grew up.

In the Nigerian homeland of Osemele’s family, his first name

translates to ”Thank God.”

He attended Langham Creek High School near Houston and caught

the attention of college coaches, who couldn’t help but notice a

guy who was 6 feet 5 and nearly 300 pounds.

He became part of Gene Chizik’s first recruiting class at Iowa

State, signing in February 2007. Osemele redshirted his first

season, which is when he saw how much work it takes to play college

football.

”You come here and you realize it’s a whole different level of

playing,” he said. ”You come from high school football, Texas

high school football, you think you work hard. Then you get here

and guys are just, man, it’s incredible. You’ve got to up your

game. It’s intense every day. Every day you have to bring it. If

you miss out on one day, there’s no telling how that’s going to

impact your season.”

Osemele was a backup through the first part of the 2008 season,

which was Chizik’s last at Iowa State. He got his first start in

the eighth game of the year against Texas A&M. He hasn’t missed

a start since.

When the Cyclones open the season against Northern Iowa on Sept.

3, Osemele will start his 31st consecutive game.

”I’m really pleased with KO’s offseason and his ability to work

on his flexibility and what we refer to as bending,” Rhoads said.

”He’s bending his hips in a much better manner that will allow him

to finish blocks in a way that draws attention. I think he deserves

everything he’s been given.”

Osemele has the long arms and agility needed to pass block,

which has been important in Iowa State’s spread offense and likely

to become even more critical this year. The Cyclones are looking

for more big plays in the passing game, and the linemen will have

to hold their blocks longer to give plays time to develop.

They also need to cut down on the 33 sacks they allowed last

year.

”I feel like (pass blocking) has improved because we have more

talent,” Osemele said. ”But it’s still not quite where it needs

to be.”

One of the biggest issues in the Cyclones’ preseason camp has

been the competition for the starting quarterback job, won by

junior college transfer Steele Jantz. Not that it made much

difference to Osemele.

”Our butt’s facing the ball anyway, so it really doesn’t matter

who has the ball,” he said. ”We’re going to protect him either

way.”