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AMES — Just two months before he was supposed to sign a national letter of intent to play football at Iowa State, Carson Lensing had to start from scratch.
In the second to last week of November of 2015, former Cyclones Coach Paul Rhoads was fired. Iowa State named Matt Campbell his replacement in a week and Lensing expected his scholarship to be honored, but there was a degree of unknown.
Lensing knew he liked the school and its football program — he grew up loving Iowa State — but he needed to know more about the man who would be leading it. So on a Friday night the week he was hired, Campbell traveled to northeast Iowa.
Less than two years later, Lensing is on track to provide depth to the Cyclones defensive line as a redshirt freshman. Iowa State travels to Akron on Saturday with kickoff set for 11 a.m. (CBS Sports Network).
“You don’t want to play for a guy you don’t know,” Lensing said. “But having him do that just really made me know I wanted to come here and play.”
Ames native Colin Newell was the first recruit Campbell met in his ISU tenure, but Lensing was a close second. The Fort Atkinson native was playing basketball for South Winneshiek on a Friday night in Calmar, so Campbell went with former director of Iowa high school relations Mitch Moore to watch.
Lensing was the first commitment Rhoads received — June 2015 — and it didn’t take long for Campbell to see why he was a Power Five prospect. The rangy prospect, whose college position was undetermined, had a sensibility that would be an asset to Campbell’s building project.
“I think the thing about Carson that I always loved, especially when I went and saw him play basketball, he was a great competitor,” Campbell said. “Now he wasn’t a great basketball player, but he was a really good competitor that night. I really, really appreciated that from him.”
Lensing shakes his head when he thinks about his on-court performance that night. But it didn’t matter. A late-night meeting with Campbell and Moore afterward told him everything he needed to know about them, and told them the same about him.
“That was probably the worst basketball game I ever played,” Lensing said. “I think I scored three points off free throws and got dunked on about three times.
“But having him there and show up, I was the first or second guy he came to visit. It really helped to reestablish this is where I want to be.”
Lensing settled into his position at defensive end when he got to campus in June 2016 and knew the learning curve would be steep. The first step was adding weight, the second was picking up the nuances of the position. Going from Class 1A football to the Big 12, he said, was a night-and-day difference.
Things started to click this spring, and now the 6-foot-4 and 255-pound Lensing is listed as a backup on the depth chart at end behind senior J.D. Waggoner.
“He’s a guy that’s just a work-hard guy,” said defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “He’s from the state, has grown physically, grown mentally and really contributed against (Northern Iowa).
“He’s got some pass rush ability, can hold some gaps in there and does a great job on the edge.”
That night in December 2015 was the true start of the path to get Lensing to where he is now. And as Iowa State tries to build up depth in the trenches, Lensing is one of the young building blocks Campbell uncovered in rural Iowa.
“At the end of the day,” Lensing said, “this is what I knew was home.”
HUMMEL REDSHIRT BURNED
Iowa State played a number of true freshmen in key roles in Matt Campbell’s first year. Through the first two weeks, the Cyclones have played three first-year freshmen, including former all-state linebacker Jake Hummel.
Hummel, a 6-1, 223-pound linebacker from West Des Moines Dowling, played on special teams against Iowa and recorded two tackles. Cornerback Richard Bowens III and running back Johnnie Lang are the other two to get reps.
“We’ve kind of been slow feeding him a lot of roles and reps,” Campbell said of Hummel. “He was on our scout kickoff team and our scout kickoff return team and he’s making all the tackles and he’s doing a really good job and its like, we’ve got to get this guy on the field, this guy’s got to play football for us, he’s ready.”
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