AMES — Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell has found a model for the type of player and person it takes to be a successful Cyclone football player.
Or maybe more accurately, the players developed the model, and now Campbell is recruiting to it and emphasizing what that is to the young players already in the program.
“At Iowa State, you have to earn the right to be successful and learn what it takes to be successful here,” Campbell said. “When young players have that model in front of them, it’s really big. A coach talking about it only goes so far. But when the players are living it and modeling it, there’s an opportunity for it to be passed down to the young players.”
The model is comprised of three main elements.
No. 1, the player has to have the requisite skill set to play that position. That seems like a given at almost any place you go.
No. 2, the player has to love football. Again, seems like a given, but Campbell believes it takes a different kind of love to succeed at Iowa State, a place that has historically been the lesser of two programs in its own state and has historically been a middle-to-bottom tier Big 12 team.
“We know our program is hard and it’s not easy to play at Iowa State,” Campbell said. “We play a brand of football that is team above self and you have to love football to play in our type of system. You have to love football to know that you’re going to have to earn the right to play.”
No. 3, the player has to value their education and life outside of football.
Campbell rattled off names like Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, Mike Rose and Charlie Kolar as guys who fit the model before he stopped himself and said, “If you go down the roster and look at the guys who are succeeding at a high rate for us, those qualities are all the same.”
Kolar has a 3.99 GPA in Iowa State’s engineering college and will leave with a master's degree.
And Campbell said Purdy, Hall and Rose all have above a 3.5 GPA.
Iowa State had a Big 12-high 44 players on the academic all-conference teams.
And if a person does look up and down Iowa State’s roster, the top performers all have the traits Campbell mentioned.
Kene Nwangwu was the Big 12’s best kick returner since he stepped on the field as a true freshman and he was a productive running back. He was the Big 12’s scholar athlete of the year in 2020 and was first-team academic All-Big 12 three times while in Iowa State’s engineering college. The only year he wasn’t was his freshman year, when he was named to the Big 12 Academic All-Rookie Team.
Greg Eisworth, a first-team All-Big 12 player every year he’s been at Iowa State, has been on the second-team academic All-Big 12 list for the past two years.
Chase Allen, a three-time second-team All Big 12 performer has been a four-time first-team academic All-Big 12 honoree in Iowa State’s engineering college.
Jake Hummel, Iowa State’s second-leading tackler last season, is a three-time first-team academic All-Big 12 guy double majoring in business analytics and finance.
Iowa State’s best cornerback since he stepped on the field has been Anthony Johnson. The junior is a two-time second-team academic All-Big 12 performer.
Will McDonald, the nation's leader in sacks last season was named to the second-team academic All-Big 12 list.
Campbell wasn’t kidding when he said his team’s best performers on the field are the ones who are just as successful off the field.
It’s maybe even more impressive when you consider that Kolar, Purdy, Rose, Eisworth and Allen all could’ve entered their name in the NFL Draft after last season but chose to return. And Hall is as close to a surefire NFL running back as you can get but wasn’t draft eligible because he was just a sophomore last year.
“They aren’t putting all of their eggs in just the NFL basket,” Campbell said. “They’re going to become the best version of themselves they can be. You have these guys that aren’t just chasing greatness on the field, they’re trying to become the best humans they can be."
“They’re elite human beings. They carry themselves on the field and off of the field very similarly. They play really hard on the field and when things get tough, they certainly rise to the occasion. They’re the same way off the field, too. How they prepare to be great has been nothing short of exemplary.”