116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
LAWRENCE, Kan. — The situation appears dire. The outlook seems bleak.
But as Iowa State seeks to recover from its first 0-2 start to Big 12 play in six years, its handful of veteran leaders stress one simple message to their youthful brethren: Don’t panic.
Don’t let doubts creep in. Play on and good things will happen for the Cyclones (3-2, 0-2), who face No. 20 Kansas State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Ames.
“This was the fifth game,” ISU two-time first team all-Big 12 receiver Xavier Hutchinson said after his team’s 14-11 loss to Kansas. “Still have a lot of games to be played. We can still determine our own future and our own success, but it starts (Sunday) when we get back in there and put this behind us and get better.
“That’s what you tell the young guys and that’s how they become better.”
Hutchinson stands front and center among a select group of seniors who serve as head coach Matt Campbell’s cadre of “player-driven leaders.” So does linebacker O’Rien Vance, who forced and recovered a fumble to keep hope alive for the Cyclones late in the mistake-filled loss to the Jayhawks.
They, along with safety Anthony Johnson, center Trevor Downing, defensive linemen Will McDonald and Isaiah Lee, and a handful of others must be the collective anchor in the Cyclones’ current storm, which is raging because of multiple special teams miscues, ongoing offensive struggles and a spate of random bad breaks.
“That’s what’s so gut-wrenching about (the loss at Kansas), is, man, our vets, our top dogs, are doing everything they can to continue to help this young team in a lot of ways move itself forward,” Campbell said. “As the head coach, that’s where it’s really irritating. Not in that you didn’t get the result you want, but these older vet guys are doing everything in their power to help this team win football games — and for that, I can sleep at night and I really appreciate who they are.”
They’re winners. They’ve proven that during their four, five or six-season careers. But can they ensure freshmen and sophomores adopt, cling to and perfect the same traits that have undergirded their past success? Stay tuned, but how ISU responds against the Wildcats (4-1, 2-0) at Jack Trice Stadium will help bring answers to that question into sharper focus.
“We just need to work as a team to improve upon the details, which is holding us back right now,” said safety Beau Freyler, who had six tackles and a pass breakup against the Jayhawks.
Campbell stressed attending to details and excelling in slim margins since he took over the program in 2016. That’s why struggling in those areas the past two games has been so concerning. But dwelling on that won’t fix it. Hence Hutchinson’s calm, but telling words, which must be heeded if the Cyclones are to reverse course and stop beating themselves.
“Sadly, in life, you learn your biggest lessons through the (times) you lose,” Hutchinson said. “I think it’s a step for everybody to take.”
A necessary step. A painful step. Perhaps a propitious step if eagerly taken.
“I feel for them, because your veteran leadership is playing such good football and you’ve got some of these young pups in some areas that are trying to (mesh) together at the same time,” Campbell said. “It will take everything we’ve got, but the great thing I feel confident in is we’ve got the right leaders.”