116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State has sold out its first two football games.
After a season of no fans, half fans and everything in between, Jack Trice Stadium will be packed again when Northern Iowa and Iowa visit.
And Coach Matt Campbell has a cautionary message for his players.
“The emotion was kind of taken out of the game from the fan standpoint last year and it was almost like playing football in the backyard again,” Campbell said. “You have to realize that you have to create your own momentum.
“I think sometimes the mirage of the fans and the mirage of the game-day experience is a thing but you also have to realize it is a mirage and it doesn’t dictate the outcome of the game. You dictate the outcome of the game.”
Campbell doesn’t want his players to get too sucked into the hype the crowd creates. He wants them to stay steady.
“I just think there will be a heightened sense of energy and heightened sense of momentum that’s created from the fan base,” Campbell said. “We have to adapt back to that and not let it overtake our performance."
For how veteran Iowa State’s team is — the Cyclones return 19 of 22 starters — some of those players have only played in front of small-capacity crowds.
Right guard Darrel Simmons and right tackle Jake Remsburg are sophomores who have never played in front of a full capacity crowd before. Neither has safety Isheem Young.
“It’s our job as leaders to help guide them along and let them know what it’s going to be like,” tight end Chase Allen said. “Your heart is going to race and things are going to get sped up. And who knows what it'll really be like. It’s the first one with everyone back again and it might be louder than ever and we’re kind of expecting that. It’ll be exciting.”
Allen said it’s not about taking the experience away from the young players, but to make sure they know how to handle it. Things will speed up, adrenaline will flow and the players will experience sensory overload.
That’s fine pregame, not during the game.
“We have to make sure everything is slowed back down before the game begins,” Allen said. “It’s our job as leaders to recognize that in the younger players.”
It’s one thing for Simmons and Remsburg, who have played in collegiate games before. It’s a whole other beast for a player like true freshman Jaylin Noel, who is on the two-deep at receiver and will have an opportunity to return kicks.
“We’ve had conversations with our young players already and letting them know the fans are just a mirage,” safety Greg Eisworth said. “It’s their preparation that has gotten them to where they’re at now. It’s about harping to them that they’re capable of doing what they need to and they just need to go out there and play.
“I was talking to Jaylin Noel the other day and I told him, ‘You’ll be fine. You’ll get your first catch, you’ll get tackled and you’ll see what that feels like. After that, you’ll be good.’ It’s about reminding them that they’re playing football and everything you’ve done to put yourself in this position has worked, so keep doing it.”
Eisworth’s pregame plan to handle the actual game begins a week in advance.
“I have to tune out everything,” Eisworth said. “I don’t get on social media at all. I don’t do any of that stuff during game weeks. Especially when we get to this point when it’s game week, but it’s only Tuesday and there’s so much anticipation for Saturday. When that happens, you can’t sleep because you’re just so anxious to play. I’ve learned to get off of all that stuff and that allows me to play my game. We have a bunch of veteran guys who have learned that same lesson.”
The fans provide enough energy. Eisworth and the rest of the players don’t need their own anxious energy keeping them up at night during the week.
“Something we talk about is our preparation and detail have to match the energy that will be created by the fan base,” Campbell said. “It’s a thing we’ll have to adapt back to that may sound easy but might not be with 18-to-22-year-olds. We’ll all feel it on Saturday and it’ll be a special feeling. We just have to make sure it doesn’t overtake us.”