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Football

MONDAY MUSINGS: Thanks, Fanatics

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AMES — Just over five years ago, I was on a family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks when I got a phone call from a friend of mine who works in the local media in Des Moines.

I was shirtless on a dock, rocking my Busch Light beer gut, probably 12-deep at the time while catching every bass that Osage Beach had to offer. 

My fiancé (now wife), Ashley, had my phone in her hand and reluctantly told me about a missed call. I knew something might be up so I was sure to get back to this friend right away.

He told me about a possible opportunity to do something special at CycloneFanatic.com.

At the time, this website was simply an exceptionally well run message board. Prior to then, I had always admired how Jeremy Lind created this free community for passionate Iowa Staters. Because of that, the consistent traffic that the forums had created over the years spelled out an opportunity to my boss, partner and big brother from anther mother, Jason Loutsch.

The idea was simple. Let’s turn this message board into a Cyclones-only media outlet. Let’s give the people – you Fanatics – what they want.

Back in October of 2009, I had a great job. I was the sports director at KMA Radio in Shenandoah, which is a small farm town about 20 minutes from where I grew up in the southwest corner of the state. 

To me, other than the fact that my wife was finishing up vet school at Iowa State and away from me during the weeks, life was pretty perfect. Working back home for the station I listened to as a kid was a dream come true. 

KMA isn’t your run-of-the-mill small-town radio station. It is basically the WHO of the western side of the state. KMA is locally owned (which is critical in the radio world) and managed by some of the greatest people I’ve been fortunate enough to know during the first 30 years of my life.

At KMA, I wasn’t getting rich but had enough money in my pocket to pay the rent and then some. I had job security. I had a nice retirement package. I could drive to see mom, dad, my sister, aunts, uncles and Grandma Jean whenever I wanted. Most importantly, the nearest farm pond to dominate was always only five minutes away.

But deep down, my dream to get back to my passion, covering Iowa State athletics, still burned. 

On this week five years ago, I picked up my phone and called my future wife to excitedly tell her that I was moving back to central Iowa.

“Wait. What? How?”

Her response was surprisingly less than enthusiastic. In fact, her tone during that conversation was borderline worrisome. 

I am a man who rightly or wrongly (mostly the latter), tends to act on emotion. Filled with hunger to roll my sleeves up and get down to business with CF, I had turned in my two weeks at KMA (again I feel the need to point out that this is one of in my opinion, the best sports jobs in our state) and would be moving to Des Moines in a couple of weeks.

“You’re quitting at KMA to start a blog?” The future Mrs. Williams was concerned about student loans being paid for in a few short months  – not to mention food – and that looming wedding.

Five years now, I’ve been doing this. Five years! Can you believe that?

Time sure does fly when you are having fun.

On behalf of Jason, Matt and Brian Lazear, our sales guru Adam Gray and senior writer Rob Gray, we cannot thank you enough for choosing CycloneFanatic.com as your one-stop shop for all things Cyclones. 

When I took this personal risk five years ago, I really didn’t know what exactly I was getting into but I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in 30 years of life. And it is all because of the people.

My partners, bosses, friends, family – whatever you want to call them – are simply amazing and for that, I could not be more blessed.

Adam Gray’s thankless work behind-the-scenes makes this place tick. Without the vision of Jason Loutsch and the Lazears, none of this would exist as we know it. I have bosses that never tell me, "No." When you’re basically inventing a business model for a new media company, that’s critically important. They trusted a 25-year old punk from southwest Iowa with their baby and for that, I could not be more grateful. 

And look at you guys – the Fanatics – the real people who make all of this happen.

Y’all are the best. 

Over the last two years, CF has raised over $15,000 for the St. Baldricks Foundation, an organization close to my heart that funds children’s cancer research.

Last week, Fanatics raised $10,000 in two days for Blank Children’s hospital (all to spite the Big 12 Conference and Bob Bowlsby, which is awesome).

We’ve gone on bus trips to Memphis together. Our kickoff and tipoff parties have become legendary. Who can forget the recruiting parties at the Keg Stand every February? 

I’m pretty sure I met half of the people on our website last spring in Kansas City when your Cyclones won the Big 12 championship. 

Thank you, Fanatics, and cheers to an amazing five years. As long as you will have me, hopefully there will be many more of these to come.  

ON IOWA STATE FOOTBALL

*** Call it what you want to call it. I’ll call Iowa State’s 37-30 victory over Toledo what it actually was – a must-win. Without a shadow of a doubt, Paul Rhoads had to put that one in the win-column last Saturday. He had to win it for his players, coaches and you, the fans. The fact that the Cyclones happened to score 37 points was a major plus.

*** That’s a good football team that Iowa State beat in Toledo. The Rockets aren’t a Big 12 caliber team, but Toledo might have had one of the best offensive lines that Iowa State will see all season and that isn’t hyperbole. The Rockets fielded five fifth-year seniors (to my knowledge, this is the first time that this has ever happened in the history of college football) up front and clearly had their way with Iowa State’s defensive line early on because of it. But while the offense woke up in the second half, the defense clamped down (after starting the game 7-9 on third-down conversions, the Rockets ended the game 8-16). I didn’t love what I saw from the Cyclones on Saturday, but I sure did like it. That was enough to provide hope for this week.

*** The Cyclones opened as 11-point underdogs to Texas on Sunday. The Longhorns (2-4) lost to Oklahoma 31-26 on Saturday. I love how this game sets up for Iowa State. For two weeks in a row, Charlie Strong has had to get his guys ‘up’ for two rivalry games, which resulted in two hard fought losses against Baylor and Oklahoma. Now, the measly Cyclones will come to town in a “sure thing” in the minds of an arrogant Texas fan base.

Like Iowa State, Texas struggles to score points. The Longhorns will enter Saturday 114th nationally in scoring offense at 19.7 points per game. Texas ranks 101st in rushing yards and 90th in passing.

This is a very, very winnable game for the Cyclones.

I don’t do this very often but on Monday morning, I’m calling my shot for Saturday. I like the Cyclones in this one.

Boom.

*** Remember in August when folks were debating the over/under on catches this season for Allen Lazard? I saw that number at 15 quite a few times. Through the first half of the season, the rookie has 21 receptions for a team-high 304 yards (not to mention two touchdowns). I’m pretty sure that the highly touted freshman is better than most thought he would be. 

*** Iowa State beat out West Virginia, Kansas State, California, Maryland and Miami for a JUCO defensive end on Sunday. Larry Jefferson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound prospect out of Itawamba C.C. in Mississippi, originally signed with Louisville out of high school but had offers to Auburn, Georgia and Virginia Tech to name a few. I’ve never seen the kid play but I do know two things: Iowa State always needs defensive linemen and the Cyclones being mentioned with those schools is always a good thing.

MORE MUSINGS

*** Get ready for plenty of hoops coverage in the coming week as I will be heading to Kansas City on Tuesday evening for the Big 12’s basketball media day, which will go down on Wednesday morning. 

*** I too was surprised when the league’s coaches picked the Cyclones to finish fifth in the preseason poll. I guess I just assumed that Fred Hoiberg’s reputation as one of the top X’s and O’s coaches in the game would have earned him at the very least, a fourth-place projection over Bruce Weber. This isn’t a big deal though. It’s a preseason poll and by all means, the Big 12 is going to once again be a steel cage match this season. One though five, I agree, is pretty much a tossup.

*** Just a few very quick thoughts on Big 12 basketball before Wednesday: I feel like Texas might be just a tad overrated heading into the season. Lindy’s picking the Longhorns to win the league seems crazy to me. However, I feel like Oklahoma and Kansas State might be better than what many people think. Iowa State is a second through fourth place team in the league and Kansas at No. 1 seems correct. I’ll have more thoughts on the upcoming season in the coming weeks, of course.

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