AMES (MCT) — Ernst Brun Jr. was just another face in the crowd trying to get on the game day field when Iowa State opened the 2012 football season.
The junior college transfer from Mt. Sac Community College (Calif.) and native of Stone Mountain, Ga., was listed as co-second team with Ricky Howard on a preseason depth chart behind Kurt Hammerschmidt.
As the Cyclones (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big 12) get set to travel to Stillwater, Okla., for Saturday’s 11 a.m. tilt with Oklahoma State (3-2, 1-1), Brun figures to play a prominent role in ISU’s offensive attack. There is a good reason for it.
Brun caught a 30-yard touchdown pass in last Saturday’s loss to Kansas State, avoiding one defender and running over another before diving into the end zone. It was the third consecutive game the 6-foot-3, 247-pound junior has caught a touchdown pass. Brun now has four TD catches, the most for a Cyclone tight end since Al Dixon in 1976 and the most for a non-wide receiver since running back Calvin Davis had four in 1994.
Often split out as more of a hybrid tight end/receiver, ISU quarterback Jared Barnett has been targeting Brun more frequently.
In Barnett’s two starts since he replaced Steele Jantz, Brun has six catches for 66 yards and two scores. On the year, Brun has 10 catches for 112 yards.
“He is showing us every week that he can do more,” Barnett said. “Obviously, last week he caught that ball on the sidelines, made a guy miss and then ran over a guy.
“He can threaten safeties downfield. You can throw a jump ball downfield. He adds a different dynamic to the offense.”
In addition to posing a mismatch for safeties, Brun has also improved as a blocker, which could be the primary reason he’s seeing more of the field.
“I’m getting a lot more snaps,” he said. “My role now is to continue to block better consistently and not take any plays off. I’ve just got to make the plays in front of me.”
Growing up, Brun was more of a basketball protege than a future Division I football player. Brun was good enough at basketball that he received a scholarship offer from Richmond and played on a Georgia AAU national championship team that featured current North Carolina State point guard Lorenzo Brown, forward Wesley Witherspoon of Memphis and Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow.
Brun says he still uses his basketball skills.
“I definitely feel I’m a bit more athletic (than most tight ends),” Brun said. “I feel like I can jump. People don’t see it a lot, but I use my body a lot. If a ball is coming outside of me, I use my body to box out like I’m playing basketball.”
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Brun since arriving in Ames.
Self-described as not the most coachable kid and with a less-than-stellar work ethic, Brun was abused on a regular basis by Cyclone defensive linemen during his redshirt season.
“I was in for a rude awakening my first couple of days here,” Brun recalled. “I went against Patrick Neal and Jake Lattimer and just got manhandled. It wasn’t even fair.
“From there on, I was like, ‘I have to gain weight and get stronger.’”
Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads said Brun has been an enigmatic individual.
“Ernst is a very interesting personality. He is hot and cold,” Rhoads said. “He can be ornery and tough to coach and he can be a guy who motivates and fires up the whole team.
“He is admired by all of his teammates.”