AMES, Iowa — Jamison Lalk was a tight end and defensive end at Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln.
He went to Iowa State to become an offensive tackle. This season, he'll be starting for the Cyclones at guard.
Lalk and redshirt freshman Daniel Burton are atop the depth chart at the guard positions for Saturday's season opener with Northern Iowa. Lalk is listed ahead of returning starter Ethan Tuftee, an oft-injured senior who has started 15 straight games and 23 in his career.
“It's more that Ethan missed some days with a charley horse above his knee and didn't get the practice opportunities to beat those guys out coming off a spring when he missed a handful of practices,” coach Paul Rhoads said Monday. “I expect all three will play.”
Lalk, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound redshirt sophomore, “is right on pace where a player would hopefully be in his third year in the program,” Rhoads said. He played in all 13 games at tackle last season, but Saturday will be his first start for Iowa State.
Unaware that he would be named the starter for the opener, Lalk said recently that he was ready for an increased role after switching from tackle to guard during spring ball.
“I think it's a good step,” he said. “I feel like I'm completely ready for it. I see myself playing a lot this year. I'm not afraid to step up and do whatever Coach asks me to do.
“From last year to this year, I knew the one thing I needed to work on was my overall strength. I've had good training all winter. I come in now and I feel a lot stronger on the field. I can push around the bigger bodies inside rather than the smaller D-ends on the outside.”
Lalk has put on nearly 50 pounds since his senior year at Abraham Lincoln, where he was a two-way starter on a team that went 9-0 in the regular season and won the school's only Missouri River Conference title.
He cut short his senior season of basketball with the Lynx in December 2010 to have shoulder surgery before his move to Ames that summer. Lalk said he never looked back.
“I guess I knew what I was getting into,” he said. “It was rough having to sit out because I love basketball, too. But I knew it was a commitment I wanted to make. I really wanted to commit to football, and I knew it was what I had to do. Once I got here, I knew that this was it.”
Lalk said the shoulder was 100 percent healthy by the summer of 2011. He redshirted that season, then played in every game last year, including the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve.
Since his arrival, Iowa State has had a pair of sub-.500 records but has posted attention-grabbing wins against unbeaten teams from Oklahoma State (in 2011) and TCU (in 2012). The Cyclones now think they're on the verge of a breakthrough season in Rhoads' fourth year.
Lalk said it's been exciting to watch Iowa State grow from the struggling program he knew growing up in Council Bluffs to one that has sold a school-record number of season tickets for its 2013 campaign.
“It's definitely cool knowing that Iowa State's going in the right direction,” he said. “Everybody's loving Coach Rhoads and what he's doing for our team. I feel like our team, ever since I've been here, is changing. It's developing. It's evolved into a better attitude, a bit more confidence in ourselves.
“It's just been a fun experience and an amazing atmosphere.”