AMES — What’s Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell’s message to his football team before the biggest regular-season game in Cyclones history?
Will he talk about what’s at stake and what a win would mean for the program and university?
“No, because everything was at stake when we were 1-3 and it’s been that way every single week since then,” Campbell said. “I don’t think you have to talk about it. I talk about the noise that’s going be generated outside of our walls.”
On more than one occasion, Campbell has referred to the outside noise as poison.
“(Now that we’ve won five straight) all of a sudden, like I said last week, it’s just a whole different type of adversity — an adversity of success, which is sometimes a lot harder to deal with than the adversity of failure,” Campbell said.
The 16th-ranked Cyclones travel to No. 15 Texas for a Saturday night showdown (7 p.m., Longhorn Network).
On the surface, adversity of success seems like an oxymoron. If a program has success, it probably battled through adversity. But adversity didn’t accompany the success.
But in Campbell’s mind, it does. And he’s gotten his players to buy into that as well.
Campbell believes the noise that surrounds success can make players and coaches complacent. They might think they’ve arrived and start to ease off the gas. Campbell doesn’t allow that thought to manifest. He believes adversity of failure is easier to deal with because a coach can quickly turn it into an underdog mindset.
“Adversity that comes with success (is more difficult to deal with) because when we were 1-3, nobody was really giving us a shot,” receiver Deshaunte Jones said. “Now, everybody is all-in with us and telling us how good we are. We continue to block out everything and act like we’re still 0-0.”
Fellow receiver Hakeem Butler has a slightly different view on the two adversities. Butler was part of two three-win seasons at Iowa State. He was a two-star recruit out of high school. He has a bigger chip on his shoulder than Jones, who was a four-star recruit and started since day one.
“I would say failure is more difficult to deal with,” Butler said. “Just because when you’re down, people want to keep you down — media, other teams, people all around — they want to keep you down and bury you at the end of the day. You can’t allow that to happen, you just have to keep fighting.
“Success, you just have to get used to it and take it as it comes. If you want to be a winner, you have to get used to winning.”
Adversity of success was a completely new concept to Butler when Campbell arrived.
“When I first got here losing was — I hate losing,” Butler said without completing the thought. “I hate it. Adversity of success is something that he brought and put in my head. It took me a minute to understand what he was saying. Then when (good) things started happening here and more people started jumping on the bandwagon, you can’t allow those things to happen and poison you. You have to keep going and be yourself.”
Running back Mike Warren had individual success early in his career, rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman. But as time went on and as David Montgomery emerged, Warren got less and less of a role. This season, Iowa State’s most successful, Warren hasn’t gotten a carry. He’s played on special teams and has been in to help in pass protection a few times, but he’s never touched the ball.
He used to be “the guy,” but he got beat out by a younger, more talented player, similar to quarterback Kyle Kempt.
“They’ve handled it tremendously well, better than you could ever imagine,” receivers coach Bryan Gasser said. “Even go back to Joel Lanning a year ago. I don’t know, maybe it’s the Kool-Aid Coach Campbell’s pouring into their Gatorade bottles. It’s really incredible when you talk about guys that have been humbled but yet haven’t given up and really have given more, despite the fact that has happened.
“They’ve been great leaders and great teammates and found other ways to contribute. I can’t thank those guys enough or say enough about them.”
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Warren was the star the last time Iowa State beat Texas. It was in 2015 when Paul Rhoads was still the coach. Warren rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown in Iowa State’s 24-0 win.
“Back then, that’s what we looked forward to,” Warren said of the Texas game. “Now, we’re looking toward championships. That should tell you how far the culture has come and how hungry these guys are on the team.”
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