For Iowa State's seniors, Liberty Bowl win would be proper ending to adversity-filled careers

Cyclones determined to send seniors out on high note

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In two weeks, when Iowa State football (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) returns to the Bergstrom Football Complex for winter workouts, it’ll be without players like Allen Lazard and Joel Lanning. Jake Campos and Kamari Cotton-Moya won’t be walking through the doors either.

Saturday’s Liberty Bowl against Memphis (10-2, 7-1 AAC) in Memphis, Tenn., will be 20 seniors’ last opportunity to don the cardinal and gold. The game will kick off at 11:30 a.m.

“From a coach’s side of it and from personal side of it, I think a win for myself would be huge, not only for our football program but we feel it’s something we have to do for our seniors,” offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “I think our seniors would certainly love to end this thing with a win.

“That’s something we’ve worked very hard to do in our preparation and in our process to help put these guys in position to have an opportunity to win because we’ve felt that they’ve done so much for, not only us, but for our families and for Iowa State football. We’re just so pleased about them.”

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This year’s seniors have been through a lot during their time at Iowa State. Two and three-win seasons are just the start of it, add in a coaching change and there isn’t much adversity this senior class hasn’t seen.

It wasn’t always easy for them to go out and play on Saturdays.

“For what we’ve been through the last three or four years, to not have the success and be really downed, and honestly saddened, to even go out there and play sometimes and not have the confidence to be able to turn it around and to go out there and get that win [was hard],” receiver Allen Lazard said.

But that struggle from previous seasons made this season that much more special for them.

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“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Lazard said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. People would question why I would say that but that’s something growing up, I’ve always appreciated the things I had to work hard for. This season is definitely one of those things.

“It hasn’t always been easy, it’s been very tough both mentally and physically for me and these other seniors as well. I wouldn’t want it any other way and I’m happy to play one more, last game as a bowl game.”

It hasn’t just been the seasons prior that have been challenging. This season, Iowa State has used four different quarterbacks out of necessity – one of them leaving the team in the middle of the season – an All-American running back was injured to end the season and the Cyclones dealt with three late-season losses that all came down to the last plays of the game.

Watch: Matt Campbell's Liberty Bowl press conference


“I think that’s probably the greatest reward for me watching this football team play is, there were a lot of times where this thing probably could’ve gone the other way,” Coach Matt Campbell said. “If our locker room and the leadership of our seniors hadn’t been at the forefront, I think it would’ve been really tough to overcome a season like this with all the storylines and things behind the scenes that didn’t make it easy for a collective team to work through. Especially when those storylines come through in the middle of the season when you’re trying to win football games.”

So, what does Iowa State need to do to win this football game?

Focus on the details. The exact same thing it’s done all season.

“Winning and losing takes care of itself if you do the little things the right way,” Campbell said. “This group, how they’ve prepared, how they’ve detailed, how they’ve handled adversity, how they’ve handled success – all of those things have been a cultural shift in our Iowa State football program.

“From where we were to where we are right now and, hopefully, where we have the ability to go. This whole experience has been an opportunity of great growth for Iowa State football and obviously capped off on Saturday.”

Senior linebacker Joel Lanning sees the game as an opportunity for growth in the program and to build upon foundation that he helped establish.

2-Minute Drill: Liberty Bowl breakdown, prediction

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“Obviously, seniors want to go out the right way, we’ve been through a lot here and I know we’re trying to finish out the right way,” Lanning said. “I think it’s an even better win for the program, honestly. Where the program’s going, you have to get the younger guys to buy in, they’re still trying to figure things out.

“I think if you get a win, it gets them motivated during the winter workouts and things like that. It keeps them hungry and wanting to come back for more next year.”

It’s not just for development though.

Iowa State made the trip to Memphis for one reason.

“Very few teams get to end any season on a win and obviously you can say momentum or whatever, and it’s always great to win your last game,” Manning said. “But most importantly, it’s great to win because it’s great to win. Winning is fun and losing is not. We’d like to win.”

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