AMES — Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell has said the college football teams that have success this year would be the teams that stay healthy.
Both healthy in a sickness and well-being sense and healthy in an injury sense.
The Cyclones haven’t had any COVID-19 problems this season and, thanks to new strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews, the players are feeling physically better than they ever have after games.
Yes, Iowa State has had injuries like offensive linemen Trevor Downing and Joey Ramos. But football is a physical sport and some injuries can’t be avoided.
Andrews doesn’t just focus on getting players physically strong. He has what he calls a holistic approach. It’s about body, mind and spirit and getting all those things to peak on Saturdays.
Two of Iowa State’s most dynamic playmakers — quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall — are prime examples of the difference Andrews has made in how their bodies are feeling and how they’re able to peak on Saturdays.
Purdy dealt with ankle injuries all last season. He had three separate ankle injuries that took away his dual-threat capabilities and made him a one-dimensional quarterback. Purdy averaged just 0.5 yards per rush from the West Virginia game, which is when he suffered his first ankle injury, to the end of the season.
Andrews gave Purdy a regiment of ligament stretching and strengthening in the offseason that has made all the difference for the junior quarterback.
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“When coach Andrews got here, his program of ligament stretches and stuff, I was able to strengthen up my ankle, and that was huge,” Purdy said. “He did that really fast. It took a couple weeks but it was faster than we expected. For me, personally, I feel great, I feel fast and feel flexible now.
“Having him and his staff here has been a great improvement and a blessing. It’s the best I’ve ever felt in my playing career.”
Purdy is averaging 3.2 yards per carry this season and when taking sacks out of the equation, his yards per carry jumps up to 5.8.
For Hall, it’s all about recovery. Running backs get hit a lot and last week, Hall detailed his recovery process. It’s helped him be consistent and peak on Saturdays like Andrews wants.
Hall has rushed for more than 100 yards every game and leads the Big 12 in every statistical category that’s important for a running back.
“It’s not just about the verbiages and lifting weights and getting as strong as you can,” Campbell said. “The verbiages are about the holistic model — what you put into your body is what you’re going to get out of it on Saturday. How do you recover? All those things have changed for the better. They really allow young people to become the best versions of themselves they can be. I think we have made a huge jump forward over the last nine months of in terms of growing to where I want them to be.
“Breece is a great example of that and I think it’s an example of his maturity, too. I think sometimes as a young player, or even as a young person, you think you’re invincible. But unfortunately, the more you put out, the more you have to put into it, physically and the more you have to learn how to recover and take care of yourself if you want to max that output with great consistency. The elite players know how to match that output with great consistency.”
Campbell said Iowa State has only begun scratching the surface of what Andrews can offer considering the vast majority of the players were not in Ames this summer due to the pandemic. And the summer is one of the times during a year when the strength and conditioning coach can really make an impact.
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Instead of Andrews leading in-person workouts in the summer, he met with Campbell. The two devised a plan for the season for how they can get the team to peak on Saturdays and at the end of the season.
“I think you’re always growing as a coach,” Campbell said. “I think our three-month block of preparing and having a general preparation for everybody went by the wayside when the pandemic hit. It went to, ‘How can we, together, devise a plan that’s going to allow our kids to be our best on Saturday?’ And I think it certainly changed my philosophy on what and how (we do to) get to Saturday.
“It’s forced me to grow a lot. (I’m) really fortunate to be able to grow and learn with Dave, because he’s brought some — and his team have brought some — great ideas and different ideas and I think it’s really helped and benefited our team.”
The No. 17 Cyclones are 4-2 and tied atop the Big 12 with the stretch run of the season left. It’s time to see if Iowa State, internally, has put itself in a position to keep peaking on Saturdays and finish the season strong.