Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson savors another college season

Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register/USA TODAY NETWORK

AMES, Iowa — A broken thumb suffered last season may prove to be a blessing for the Iowa State and wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson.

The Jacksonville, Fla., native established himself as one of the Big 12’s premier pass catchers in 2020 and 2021, but his hopes of entering the NFL took a hit last December.

“I definitely explored it,” said Hutchinson, who has 147 career receptions for 1,758 yards and nine touchdowns. “There were just certain things I didn’t have in my control.”

Hutchinson underwent a surgical procedure after a piece of bone in his left thumb became detached, but he returned to play with a cast in the Cyclones’ 20-13 loss to Clemson in the Cheez-It Bowl.

His lone catch in that game was a diving, 34-yard grab – against Tigers’ cornerback Mario Goodrich, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles – that brought Iowa State fans to their feet and set an example for Hutchinson’s younger teammates.

“I was actually kind of stunned a little bit,” Cyclone wideout Jaylin Noel said of Hutchinson’s catch, “but then again, it’s Xavier.”

This is not the first time Hutchinson’s dreams have been delayed or in doubt.

He enrolled at Blinn (Texas) College out of high school, but didn’t play in any of his first five games.

“I really didn’t think I was going to get any (scholarship) offers,” Hutchison said. “And I sure enough wasn’t going to get a Power Five school to look at me.

“But coach (Matt) Campbell said he saw something in me, just from practice.”

Campbell, entering his seventh season at Iowa State, took a chance of Hutchinson, who blossomed into a two-time, first-team, all-Big 12 selection.

This summer, he was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, given annually to the nation’s top receiver.

“X is a unique player,” Campbell said. “He can do a lot of different things. The best thing is, getting the football in his hands. He is a dynamic playmaker.”

Hutchinson will be the most reliable playmaker for a Cyclone offense that is replacing quarterback Brock Purdy, who passed for 12,170 yards and 81 touchdowns the previous four years – helping Iowa State post a 31-20 record and appear in four bowl games.

Hunter Dekkers is the new starter, having completed 20 of 36 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns as a backup in 2021.

Hutchinson is already Dekkers’ favorite target.

“It’s the best feeling a quarterback could ask for,” Dekkers said. “He’s one of the best receivers in the country. He does everything really well.”

The Cyclones finished a disappointing 7-6 last season, after expectations for the program were elevated following a 9-3 record in 2020 and the school’s first-ever appearance in the Big 12 Championship game.

Hutchinson’s thumb is fully healed and he wants to help Iowa State make amends.

“I think Hunter is a good enough quarterback,” Hutchinson said. “I’m just there to make him look good, and him make me look good.”

Hutchinson’s former basketball-playing mother, Denise, and former track star father, Trent, both served in the Navy. The work ethic they instilled included regular 6 a.m. wakeup calls for Xavier.

“They knew what they wanted out of their son,” Hutchinson said.

Those expectations are being passed on to the rest of the Cyclones.

“He’s a guy who comes in and makes sure his leadership is felt,” Noel said of Hutchinson. “He makes sure the whole wide-receiver group is where they need to be and doing what they need to do.

“He as a teammate really elevates our whole team.”

Hutchinson, meanwhile, is embracing his role and his return to Iowa State.

“Most definitely it was a blessing in disguise,” he said of the injury. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.