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OTTUMWA — Iowa State will feature a new starting quarterback. A different top tailback. An array of fresh faces across the defense and special teams.
The 2022 football season is rife with uncertainty for head coach Matt Campbell and the Cyclones — and he’s facing it with alacrity rather than anxiety.
“I feel like since January, I’ve jumped out of the bed every day and couldn’t wait to get back to the office because I think it makes you grow,” Campbell said Tuesday during a Tailgate Tour stop at the Bridge View Center. “And success and failure, if you’re willing to really sit back and say, ‘Where could we have been better?’ Man, it makes you want to grow and continue to get better, and I feel that every day.”
The development of projected starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers is one reason to be optimistic that Iowa State can extend its modern era program-record streak of five consecutive winning seasons to six. Sprinkle in top returners such as receiver Xavier Hutchinson, center Trevor Downing, defensive end Will McDonald, linebacker O’Rien Vance and cornerback-turned-safety Anthony Johnson, and it becomes increasingly clear Campbell and his staff have turned the Cyclones’ program into one that shouldn’t require a rebuild.
“To have a new quarterback, to have some of these guys that are getting these opportunities for the first time — the outside world surely will have not known some of these guys,” Campbell said. “But, man, for some of these guys to seize an opportunity to do what (former ISU star tailback) Breece Hall did in replacing (current Chicago Bears running back) David Montgomery, or what (ISU’s winningest quarterback) Brock Purdy did in replacing a Kyle Kempt, I think that’s the thing that’s really rewarding, and that’s what’s fun about building a program.”
McDonald’s decision to come back for one more season ensures the Cyclone defense’s pass rush will remain strong, but Johnson’s return in a different role could have the biggest impact on ISU’s fortunes in 2022. His importance was magnified when starting safety Craig McDonald created more on-paper uncertainty by abruptly entering the transfer portal last month, eventually landing at Auburn.
“The great thing about our team, especially on the defensive side of the football, is it’s never been about one person,” Campbell said. “I feel like in the secondary it’s the deepest we’ve been and to have a guy like Anthony Johnson, who was this phenomenal corner for us in the Big 12, and yet to be able to move him back to safety and feel like we’re even better at the corner position, I think it says a lot about where we’ve been.”
ISU’s climb up the recruiting rankings has been slow but steady. Many of this season’s newcomers will spring forth from those solid recent classes. They’ll need to replace several record-setting former stars such as Hall, Purdy, tight end Charlie Kolar, linebacker Mike Rose, safety Greg Eisworth and former defensive tackle Enyi Uwazurike, among others.
How well can unproven players keep the Cyclones on the plus side of the win/loss ledger? Therein lies the uncertainty, as well as the excitement.
“I feel like our sport is this game of imperfections,” Campbell said. “That failure is almost certainly coming and yet it’s (about) your ability to be humble enough to grow through it and grow from it.”