116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — He suffered a hamstring injury in last season’s opener. It bothered him all season — and forced him to sit out four full games.
But Iowa State sixth-year senior linebacker O’Rien Vance didn’t wallow in self-pity, nor slink into the shadows.
“I never felt like I was distant from the team, or separate,” said the former Cedar Rapids Washington star. “I always felt like I was still a part of it.”
That’s because Vance chose to remain fully engaged. To help his teammates. To spur excellence all around him, which led to personal growth amid the ongoing pain.
“Whenever I wasn’t around people I could feel myself kind of getting down,” said Vance, one of the Cyclones’ most versatile linebackers in recent years. “And whenever I got back around the team, the energy and the vibe just constantly had me (thinking), ‘Ah, I’ve got to be here for everybody. I can’t just be here for myself. I’ve got to be here for everybody.’”
Now he’s back at 100 percent. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder is two career starts shy of his uniform number of 34. He’s 2.5 sacks away from surging into a tie for 10th all-time at ISU — and only one full-time linebacker, Wille Harvey, currently populates that list.
In short, Vance is renewed and refreshed, which is great news for a defense that lost standouts such as Mike Rose and Jake Hummel at his position alone.
“When I look at O’Rien Vance, you look at a guy that has rallied our locker room through really tough times and through really good times,” Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said earlier this spring. “One of the things that O’Rien (does) is he defines our culture in a lot of ways.
“To have a guy like that who is so well-respected in our locker room, not just as a football player, but as the leader. As (someone with) perseverance, adversity and toughness — to be leading our locker room, I think that's huge. So we're really appreciative that he chose to come back and lead and I think he came back for the sole reason to be the leader within our football program and so far he's done a phenomenal job.”
Vance’s best game last season was the final one. He’d missed the last two regular-season games, but returned to face No. 14 Clemson and tied his single game career-high in tackles with nine in the 20-13 Cheez-It Bowl setback. Now Vance will play alongside fellow senior Gerry Vaughn, who earned his first career starts at linebacker last season while Vance was sitting out.
“I was his biggest fan,” said Vance, a first team academic all-Big 12 selection in 2021. “It’s one of those things that whenever you’re really close with a teammate and seeing them thrive, seeing them succeed and make plays, it was the best feeling for me. Every time you got to see him make a play, or he got a sack, I was in there celebrating.”
Vance also is eager to see what graduate transfer Colby Reeder can do at linebacker. The former Delaware player was impressive in spring practice in run support and in pressuring the quarterback. Reeder, like Vance, is a sixth-year player who’s battled injuries.
“He’s a nice addition,” Vance said. “I like having him. He’s a veteran guy. He’s older and he’s more mature. Just having him in the room, his questions that he asks, he’s a great dude to have.”
Vance has been a fixture of the Cyclones’ Campbell-led renaissance, winning defensive MVP honors in the 2020 Fiesta Bowl win over Oregon, and serving as a three-year starter. He’s skilled as a pass rusher, in coverage and in stopping the run. Now Vance is whole again from a physical standpoint — and much stronger from a mental point of view.
“We’re working,” Vance said. “That’s all I can say. We’re working and I fell like we’re getting stronger and better every day, and that’s our only goal. We don’t care about any outside noise. We’re focused on us and trying to get better.”