AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell’s philosophy when it comes to young players is that he’d rather play them too late than too early.
He doesn’t want to overwhelm a freshman who has shown flashes and ability in practice but doesn’t quite have everything ironed out.
That philosophy has worked well for Campbell but it’s also forced him to play musical chairs in key positions the last two seasons.
In 2018, Kyle Kempt started the season at quarterback until he was injured against Iowa. Zeb Noland stepped in and played OK but against Oklahoma State, Noland got the first drive and that was all.
Purdy replaced Noland and picked apart the Cowboys and nearly every other Cyclone opponent that season.
Last year, Sheldon Croney, Kene Nwangwu and Johnnie Lang all rotated at running back. All showed glimpses of being “the guy” but none of them could string together a good couple of games.
Breece Hall stepped in as the starting running back against West Virginia and torched the Mountaineers and almost every other Cyclone opponent.
Both Purdy and Hall stepped in for the Cyclones in hostile environments on the road, proving to themselves, and Campbell, that they were ready. And they also proved Campbell’s philosophy is a sound one.
“I think (Hall) did a great job from that West Virginia game on,” Purdy said. “To be honest he just brought that run game that we really needed. All of our running backs are amazing. They’re great. But I think when Breece really took on that role from that West Virginia game, it just gave us that extra firepower for the offense that we needed.
“I felt like there was a lot of pressure on me as far as, ‘All right, Brock’s got to throw almost every time to make a big play,’ but being able to hand the ball off and just trust in Breece to make plays was awesome for me, for the O-line, for the offense as a whole and for the team.”
Purdy was able to build on his strong freshman season and have a phenomenal sophomore season, breaking 18 school records last season.
It’s unreasonable to expect Hall to break 18 records, but Campbell believes he’s ready to take another step.
“I think great players want greatness,” Campbell said. “I think one of the things I love about Breece is that he’s a young man that is trending toward becoming a great player.”
Campbell could see Hall beginning to take that next step during the winter workouts. Couple that with the time and effort he put in during the summer and the mentality he has, Campbell believes he has another special player like Purdy.
“I think the starting point has to be your mentality,” Campbell said. “Are you satisfied with positive things happening or do you really have the ability to reflect, really narrow in on some of your weaknesses and have the ability to strain and take the next step forward? I think Breece has really come back with that maturity from January to where he is today.”