AMES, Iowa — Iowa State returns three senior running backs with starting experience.
Aaron Wimberly chose to join the Cyclones anyway.
The second-team NJCAA All-American from Iowa Western passed on scholarship offers from TCU, Boise State, Penn State and Iowa to go to Ames, even though James White, Shontrelle Johnson and Jeff Woody were coming back. All three have eight or more career starts at ISU.
Not one to back down from a challenge, Wimberly has played his way into a major role for Saturday’s opener with Northern Iowa. The junior transfer from Snellville, Ga., is listed as a co-No. 1 tailback for the Cyclones with the three seniors and sophomore DeVondrick Nealy.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads likes the versatility of Wimberly, who is the smallest of the five backs on his depth chart at 5-foot-9 and 173 pounds.
“The fact that he has more flexibility is very, very good for our football team,” he said. “We knew we had guys at the position that could play, but we went after Aaron very aggressively because we knew the special talent that he was.
“He could easily be the starter back there, carrying the rock the most that first game. He’s going to make a very large impact on this football team this fall.”
Wimberly certainly made his mark in his two seasons at Iowa Western, rushing for more than 2,000 yards in his two-year career. Last season, he ran for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns while helping the Reivers win the NJCAA national championship in only their fourth season.
During his two years in Council Bluffs, Wimberly displayed big-play ability. He was Iowa Western’s top rusher, returned kicks and was a productive receiver out of the backfield and in the slot.
Rhoads said Wimberly gives Iowa State the home-run threat it hasn’t had at tailback recently.
“Aaron has great speed. He can hit that hole, that crack, because he’s that quick and that explosive,” he said. “The other guys quite haven’t done that over the last three years.”
Wimberly said he’s picked things up quickly at ISU because he feels the offense is similar to the ones he starred in at South Gwinnett High School in Georgia and at Iowa Western. Sharing the load with other backs during the spring and fall hasn’t affected him at all, he said.
“All of us are great backs,” he said. “We all do different things on the field. It should be a good thing. Everybody’s going to get on the field. We have a lot of packages for a whole bunch of backs to get on the field.”
Wimberly is no stranger to a competition of talented backs. As a freshman at Iowa Western, he went up against former Iowa running back Brandon Wegher and current ISU teammate Rodney Coe for the starting spot in fall camp. And last season, he earned the nod over current Nevada running back Don Jackson and former West Virginia starter Vernard Roberts.
It’s been no different for him in Ames.
“It’s similar as to how it was. We have a lot of backs, just like how it was at juco,” he said. “We’re cheering each other on and competing at the same time. Right now, it’s just getting on the field and taking advantage of my opportunities.”
Wimberly said he initially came to Iowa Western expecting to work his way, athletically and academically, into a Division I scholarship somewhere near Georgia. Now in his third year of playing college football in Iowa, he’s found a place where he’s equally comfortable.
“I really thought I was going to go juco then head back home. But I got the opportunity to play again in Iowa,” he said. “It’s family-oriented. I love the team. I’ve got people from Iowa Western here as my teammates. It’s basically like home.”