AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell finally has his program where he wants it as a new spring football season begins.
The Cyclones are coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons and return many key pieces, like quarterback Brock Purdy and linebacker Marcel Spears.
“The difference is the detail,” Campbell said. “Do our kids play really hard here? Yes. Do they play for each other? Yes. If you look at the season, you really start to reflect on where do we have to grow? It’s taken two years to lay that foundation to say, ‘This is what an Iowa State football team plays like.’ You’ve gotten that now in a steady dose over the last 24 football games we’ve played.
“But it’s the detail. Does a coach have to coach you to play hard to the end of the whistle? Do they have to coach you to line up right at the beginning of every snap? Stance, start, assignment — those things are I think the difference between are we going to take the next step here or are we going to stay where we’re at?”
The biggest key to what Campbell wants to see from a detail perspective is the player leadership in the program. Iowa State lost leaders like quarterback Kyle Kempt, running back David Montgomery, receiver Hakeem Butler and defensive backs Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne.
But Campbell feels confident in the leaders that are coming back.
“We’re really fortunate, this is the first time since I’ve been here that I really feel we have a strong group of leaders coming back,” Campbell said. “You’re talking about guys like Ray Lima, Marcel Spears — you can go to almost every position group.
“Yeah, we lost some good players, but I think the leadership, the accountability and the self-ownership in this program is maybe as good as I’ve ever had coming back into a football team. That part is what excites you.”
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Campbell said he started noticing it during winter workouts. Players’ bodies changed for the better and the leadership and work ethic has carried over to the early parts of spring practices.
“You get into these team settings and you see guys take great ownership of what’s going on,” Campbell said. “In a lot of ways, we’re still really young, so to watch that accountability start to come in the fold is really fun.”
Iowa State’s youngest players in spring practice should be finishing high school right now. Running back Breece Hall, defensive end Blake Peterson and offensive lineman Jarrod Hufford all early enrolled.
“What I really appreciate about all the young guys that have come in — Blake Peterson, Blake Hufford, Breece Hall — these are kids that should be in high school, running track and getting done with basketball season,” Campbell said. “But these are kids that have been here, and you would’ve never known they should be in high school. All three have left a really strong impression on all of us with how mature they are for their age to be able to do this and show that they belong here.”
Campbell said this team has come back with a purpose.
“I really appreciate that about this group,” Campbell said. “The thing I appreciate this team in being able to coach them is they’re self-starters. They want to get better, they’re infectious and that want-to makes you as a coach, and the entire coaching staff, really excited every day to come out and coach them.”
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