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AMES — Every year or so Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell comes up with a new catch phrase or motto for his team and for the season.
Last year it was all about player-driven leadership. Two years ago, it was about handling expectations. Three years ago, it was winning in the dark and, four years ago, it was building the foundation.
For the entire season, that would be his message to the players, the media and the fans.
“The great thing about Coach Campbell is that if you miss his message the first time, you’ll get it again the next 11 weeks,” tight end Charlie Kolar said, as a joke, last season.
Campbell seems to have found his new catch phrase for the 2021 season.
During Big 12 Media Days on Wednesday, Campbell mentioned “transformational leaders” and “transformational players” and “transformational decisions” several times in his ESPN interview and during his time at the podium.
During his ESPN interview, Campbell was asked about quarterback Brock Purdy picking Iowa State over offers from Alabama and Texas A&M.
“The big thing for Brock, as it is for anybody in our program, is this a transformational decision or a transactional one?” Campbell said. “What I love about our program and what we’ve been able to build is, ‘How can we transform you? How can we continue to be transformational rather than transactional?’
“We don’t want to have guys just come, go through the motions, this is what it is and then leave. Brock has been a transformational leader in our program. What he’s done for us, who he is and what he’s about is far greater than any offers he had coming to Ames.”
A transformational player on the defensive side of the ball? Safety Greg Eisworth.
“Greg is one of those young men for us that has been what I would call a transformational leader,” Campbell said at the podium during his media session. “Iowa State football would not be where it is without Greg's leadership. He's been a transformer and really proud of everything that he stands for on and off the field.”
As Kolar alluded to last season, once Campbell gets a phrase or motto he likes, he sticks to it. Expect a few more “transformers” to emerge on Iowa State’s roster as the season approaches and as the season progresses.
Why Matt Campbell didn’t leave Iowa State
Any time Campbell appears at a more national scale, the inevitable question of “why are you still in Ames?” comes up.
It came up Wednesday during his ESPN interview and it came up when Brian Davis of the Austin American Statesman asked him during his time at the podium. Both times Campbell gave some version of the same answer.
"Very simply put, I didn't get into this profession to be somebody,” Campbell said. “I got into this profession to do something.
“That’s one of the great joys that we’ve had over the last five years, and now going into our sixth year here at Iowa State is how do you do something that a lot of people said wasn’t possible? How do you have sustained success at a place like that?
“It’s been a lot of fun and a great challenge to put a program together and we’ve worked really hard to create sustained success and a culture where kids want to come in every day and feel confident every day to become the best versions of themselves. That’s what I love about what I get to do and we have great kids in our program. It’s a true joy to go to work.”
The Big 12 is a deep conference
From top to almost-bottom, the Big 12 should be a deep conference and a difficult one in 2021.
Iowa State has risen to prominence and was picked second in the Big 12 preseason poll. Oklahoma has an odds-on favorite Heisman quarterback and always is at the top of the league.
After that, it’s a jumble of five or six teams that could all finish anywhere from second to eighth.
“If you look from top to bottom and look at the quarterbacks in this league, the skill positions in this league and then if you flip it on the defensive side, I think we’re better defensively than we’ve ever been,” Campbell said. “Across the board, we have really good defenses now. And some of the coaching staffs are starting to get some consistency now, too.
“From top to bottom, this is a really dangerous league and a league where you better have your A-game week in and week out if you want to have success.”