Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State football leader Ray Lima would rather serve than star

Matt Campbell says senior nose guard is reason ISU program has turned

Iowa State defensive tackle Ray Lima (76) jokes with teammates during the Cyclones’ Media Day Thursday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. Matthew Putney/freelance)
Iowa State defensive tackle Ray Lima (76) jokes with teammates during the Cyclones’ Media Day Thursday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. Matthew Putney/freelance)

AMES — Yes, there are too many college football preseason award watch lists and little value to most.

Make an exception for the Wuerffel Trophy, which describes itself as college football’s premier award for community service.

Iowa State’s man on that list is senior nose guard Ray Lima, the son of a Los Angeles pastor. Lima has become a player and person of impact here. He has served over 80 hours of community service as a Cyclone, with his activities including school read-a-thons, hospital and nursing home visits, Wounded Warrior Project, Special Olympics, Boys and Girls Club, and more.

He was a first-team Academic All-Big 12 honoree last year, and graduated with a degree in liberal studies last December.

That’s a great list. Then add what Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell says about Lima.

“Unfortunately,” Campbell said at his team’s Media Day Thursday, “I and our staff get a lot of the credit why this program has turned. He’s the reason. He’s the entire reason this college football program has turned, who he is, what he is, what he stands for.”

Lima was a second-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman a year ago. What his teammates and head coach say is that while the 305-pound Lima’s play was terrific in his first two years here after arriving from El Camino Community College in Los Angeles, it’s how he acts that carries the most weight.

“He’s a big, charismatic guy, man,” said Jamahl Johnson, who starts alongside Lima on the Cyclones’ defensive line. “He’s very loving. He puts people before himself.”

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“He’s just the best human being,” ISU defensive end JaQuan Bailey said. “He is willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good of others. He’s the best leader I’ve ever been around.”

Campbell warned reporters that Lima wouldn’t want to talk about himself, but the player did reveal a little.

“The biggest honor, more than playing on the field,” Lima said, “is just being part of something bigger than yourself.

“I feel like from a life standpoint I just want to be someone that kind of gives more than they got, just kind of serve others. That’s kind of my biggest calling, from being on the field to just living. I want to be known as someone who serves when all is said and done.”

Look, Lima wouldn’t be mentioned as much by his coach or written about here if he wasn’t a formidable player. He also is on the Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player) and Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) preseason watch lists. Lima has been as responsible as any player for Iowa State going from downtrodden to two straight 8-win seasons and a No. 24 ranking in the 2019 coaches’ preseason poll.

A frequent subject of double-teams, Lima has modest career tackle numbers. However, those with trained football eyes know what he’s done the last two seasons.

“Statistically,” Campbell said, “he’s not going to jump off the screen, ‘Hey, Ray Lima is this and this and this.’ But on fourth-and-1, third-and-1 in most critical situations of the biggest games that we’ve played here, Ray Lima has been outstanding.”

“His ability to be consistent,” is how Johnson defined Lima as a player, before raving about his block-shedding.

But the talk always came back to Lima’s personality, not his performance.

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“He’s a together person,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t have any social media. He doesn’t really care about what people say about him. He’s a whole different breed.

“He’s more of a homebody. He likes having people over, playing board games, watching TV series together, going to movies.”

Lima is a leader, but not a screamer.

“On camera, no,” said Bailey. “In that locker room, Ray is a true character. Ray laughs and jokes around a lot. But he’s always willing to do more to be successful. He’s always willing to go the extra mile.”

“I’d say he’s vocal,” Johnson said. “But most people just follow behind his actions. He’s not a lot of talk unless things need to be cleared up.”

Campbell said Lima is “a guy I think has made me a better person, taught me the right way to lead.

“His humility, his character, his ability to serve others is really, really powerful, and I think it’s really hard to find in our society today.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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