116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — In 2017, Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell talked a lot about that senior class laying the foundation for the future of the program.
It was the class of Allen Lazard, one of the best receivers in Iowa State history. It was the Joel Lanning class, a player who switched from quarterback to linebacker and became an All-American. It was the Kyle Kempt class, a third-string walk-on junior college transfer who took over at quarterback and led the Cyclones to the Liberty Bowl.
That group laid the foundation.
This year’s group of seniors that will play in their final home game on Friday against TCU built the structure on that foundation.
And it’s an impressive structure.
Iowa State has never been able to sustain success in its history. Johnny Majors, Earle Bruce and Dan McCarney all had moments of success, but none were able to sustain it for one reason or another.
This senior class for the Cyclones was able to sustain success. They will go to their fifth straight bowl game this season. They played in the Big 12 championship game last year and won the Fiesta Bowl, a New Year's Six bowl game.
They’ve done things that were unheard of and, frankly, things people didn’t think possible at Iowa State.
This year hasn’t gone quite according to plan for Iowa State’s seniors. The Cyclones are 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big 12, but their body of work and what they've built is unmatched by any group before it.
“I texted our team (Tuesday) morning, and I actually used those words, ‘There have been other classes that have laid foundations, but this group has filled in the framework,’” Campbell said. “They have taught everybody that it can happen here, it has the ability to happen here and how it will happen here.
“Those are huge cornerstones and those are huge building blocks in terms of success, winning, playing at an elite level and having the ability to handle positives and handle negatives. This group has every single one of those traits and they’ve done it in a first-class way every single time.”
It’s a senior class that was recruited based off of a vision and a hope. The Cyclones were a 3-9 football program when this senior class was recruited.
They turned it around.
“I look at this class, it’s obviously really special because it’s a group of guys that is a mix of our first two full recruiting classes,” Campbell said. “We were able to get into the weeds with them, develop culture and relationships with them. They came on the premise of we were 3-9 and man, can you help us change the culture of Iowa State football? It’s a sincere feeling of appreciation and gratitude. It’ll be emotional for me because every step of the way, this group has had elite courage, an elite standard of excellence and it’s never wavered.
“To me, the season we’re having is almost fitting because I think it’s defining of the fact this group has never wavered, they’ve never flinched and they just keep playing. They’ve shown the youth of our program what it means to play here and what it looks like to play here. I’m forever indebted and forever grateful for what these guys have done.”
What’s impressive about the class is it hasn’t just been about one guy or a group of guys. It’s not just Brock Purdy or Mike Rose. It’s not just Charlie Kolar or Enyi Uwazurike. It’s not just Chase Allen or Greg Eisworth.
It’s the whole class that has contributed to what Iowa State has become.
“To be in the class where Campbell was telling us what the vision was and what the hope for the program was, at a place where, historically, it hasn’t been the best, and then to come in here and see change and be a part of change — that’s been the most memorable thing,” Purdy said. “Playing in big games, winning big games, or losing games and having to come back and get the team back on the right track.
“All of these guys in this senior class have done that and it hasn’t been a one-man show at all.”
While it’s not a one-man show, it’s hard not to appreciate what those individuals have turned themselves into. Rose was committed to Ball State before his Iowa State offer. Iowa State was Kolar’s only Power Five offer until signing day. Uwazurike was committed to Toledo until he decided to follow Campbell to Iowa State.
“Iowa State hasn’t sustained success ever in football,” Campbell said. “What has happened over the last five years has never happened in the history of this school. What they’re showing is it’s possible. What they’re showing is a guy like Charlie — has Iowa State ever had the best player in the country at their position? No. That’s happening now with him and Rose — not to mention Breece (Hall), who’s not a senior. What they’re showing is all of these things are real and they can happen. And they can happen without being the five-star guy.”
But this senior class hasn’t just built this structure and they haven't just built themselves up.
They also laid the foundation for the next group.
To sustain success, Iowa State can’t have a monolithic structure to one five-year stretch of football. It wants a whole group of structures. And to do that, this senior class needed to lay the foundation for the next group. They haven’t just laid the foundation either, as Campbell, the former construction worker said, they left the blueprint, too.
“I think we’ve laid out what it looks like to be successful here,” Purdy said. “We’ve been in every single game we’ve played in — even the games we’ve lost this year, they just came down to a couple of possessions. The young guys moving forward understand what it’s going to take. They can take what we’ve done, learn from it and go make history. They can be the best.
“That’s our vision and legacy we want to leave behind for these guys.”