AMES, Iowa — A broken thumb suffered last season may prove to be a blessing for the Iowa State football team and 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 on 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.”