AMES — Iowa State’s senior class is filled with unheralded players like fullback Sam Seonbuchner, running back Mike Warren and defensive end Spencer Benton.
Seonbuchner came to Iowa State as a linebacker, but Coach Matt Campbell asked him to switch to the no-notoriety position of fullback. He’s excelled in that role.
Warren rushed for 1,339 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman, then David Montgomery beat him out and took away all his carries.
Benton was a walk-on who had to earn any playing time he got.
Even the notable guys, like cornerback Brian Peavy and linebacker Willie Harvey, don’t get the publicity a person would expect from two-high performing seniors.
Opposing offenses avoid Peavy as often as possible, so he puts up limited statistics. Harvey always is playing next to a “breakout” player — Marcel Spears last season and Mike Rose this season — who seem to steal his spotlight.
Then there is quarterback Kyle Kempt, who was “the guy” but got hurt in the first game of the season and his job was won by true freshman Brock Purdy.
No. 25 Iowa State (6-4, 5-3 Big 12) hosts Kansas State (5-6, 3-5) on Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium for senior day.
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“(Being the unsung heroes) is their story,” Campbell said. “They didn’t quit when things got really hard. Some of these guys had tough times and tough situations. They’ve had ups, they’ve had downs and yet, these guys persevered, they stayed the course and kept pounding away. I think that’s their niche.
“I think that’s why we have this resiliency that this team has had and embodied since January. It’s kind of like the no-name senior class in a lot of ways.”
This senior class is almost the complete opposite of last year’s senior class. Allen Lazard, Joel Lanning, Marchie Murdock, Trever Ryen and Kamari Cotton-Moya all had massive on-the-field impact. They weren’t unsung heroes. They were hyped heroes.
Campbell has said the 2017 senior class laid the foundation for success at Iowa State. They learned how to win.
This season, the 2018 senior class had to learn how to handle success and expectations.
“I think the task that they had in this program, maybe a lot harder than last year’s senior class,” Campbell said. “Sometimes it’s easy to turn the tide. It’s really hard to consistently say that we belong. This class has done a phenomenal job in a lot of ways. My hope for them and our entire program is we do everything in our power to let our senior class tell their story. The story that’s going to be told is maybe the most powerful that’s come through in a long time.”
Campbell has often said Kempt is the best story this program has produced. He’s a walk-on, two-time transfer who burst on the scene last season, beat two top-five teams and led Iowa State to a bowl game. He earned a scholarship and sixth year of eligibility in the offseason and then promptly got injured and beat out by a freshman. But every day, he still prepares like the starter and helps Purdy prepare for what he’ll face.
Kempt, as usual, downplayed his story.
“I think there are a lot of great stories in this program,” Kempt said. “I think I’m a position that just helps our team in the way I need to. There are so many phenomenal stories. Our senior class is kind of all over the place in terms of what everyone brings to the table, but each one of those guys has done a phenomenal thing for our program ... whether you see it on the field or not, there are guys that contribute every single day on and off the field in that senior class.”
Warren might be the embodiment of impacting the program and team “off the field.” He hasn’t touched the ball in a game this season, but still goes to work every day and helps in any way he can.
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Campbell has credited Warren and Montgomery with the initial culture change because those two were in the Bergstrom Football Complex in January and on Friday and Saturday nights in the offseason working out and getting better.
Warren was successful early in his career and had every chance to transfer and get playing time somewhere else.
“The biggest thing was the guys around me,” Warren said “I didn’t want to quit on those guys. They were there for me at the end of the day when I was going through hard times. The least I could do was be there for them through the end.”
Warren has turned himself into a leader and someone other players can confide in. It started in fall camp when he stood in front of the team and told his story. He learned being a leader isn’t just about on-field production and 1,000-yard seasons.
“I know football is everything to some people, but I know it’s going to end someday, so I just want to make a bigger impact off the field,” Warren said. “It’s not all about the touchdowns and the numbers or anything like that. It’s just being a good teammate and being someone people would come to whenever.”
In an era where guys pack up and leave the moment their touches drop, Warren’s maturity should be commended.
“I just want people to know that if things aren’t going your way, it doesn’t hurt to stay and help the next person,” he said.
Campbell is thankful for what this senior class has done for his program.
“Five years from now, nobody is really going to remember,” Campbell said. “You may remember a score here or there or a moment here or a moment there, but the character that you leave, the legacy that you leave, who you really were in the moments of positive and negative — the kind of friend, the kind of teammate and the kind of impact you had on this program — that’s profound because that stays with you for life.
“This senior class — defining.”
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