On Saturday, Matt Campbell will put on his weathered, red ball cap and pop a piece of cotton candy bubble gum into his mouth. He’ll go through his first spirit walk and, maybe, but not likely, he will sneak out again to catch a glimpse of the tailgate scene.
He’ll get into his coaching gear and he’ll give his pregame speech. He’ll shake hands with the handful of recruits in Ames for official visits. He’ll run through the gameplan one last time before the Cyclones take the field to face Northern Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium.
Then he’ll run out of the tunnel and the first chapter, a great first chapter, of the Matt Campbell era at Iowa State will be over. No longer will the discussion be recruiting, uniforms, walk-out songs or social media.
On Saturday night at 7, the only thing to talk about will be football.
“I can’t wait to play and I can’t wait to see this stadium, can’t wait to be a part of this environment,” Campbell said. “But I also can’t wait to give back to our fans and to our own fanbase. That’s building this thing the right way and doing it the right way. Obviously, the starting point is this Saturday so it’s certainly a big game in a lot of different ways.”
It’s crazy to think about how much has changed for Iowa State football since the Panthers came to town one year ago.
Campbell was the coach at Toledo while Paul Rhoads still roamed the sidelines in Ames. ISU starting quarterback Joel Lanning was the backup to Sam Richardson and took just one snap in the 31-7 win. Workhorse running back Mike Warren carried the ball only six times for 19 yards as a reserve.
Saturday night is the start of the maturation process for Iowa State football. That might not even be the right words for what is happening. This isn’t a program that’s maturing, it’s becoming trendier. We’ll call it the rebirth of Iowa State football.
“Just knowing how far we’ve come over the last eight months,” Warren, who rushed for 1,339 yards during his redshirt freshman season, said. “Everything is different now. It’s a new change. It’s time to showcase everything that we’ve been working on.”
The same questions still linger for the Cyclones. Is there enough depth on the offensive line? How will they hold up in the defensive trenches? Can they avoid enough injuries to keep the team from imploding?
Even with the questions, the feeling surrounding the program is different. There isn’t the same sort of “woe is me” attitude that caused the Rhoads staff to leave sour tastes in a lot of people’s mouths.
Before, people were waiting for the bad thing to happen. Now, they’re taking the bad, or unfortunate, thing and looking at what’s next. How do we react?
Sure, Jake Campos went down with a broke ankle, but I hear that Julian Good-Jones has performed well in camp. Nine true freshman are on the two deep, you say? It’s okay, Coach Campbell and his staff signed the best class in school history in February. They should be on the field.
For the first time since this reporter got to Ames, Iowa State football has a swagger. Iowa State football has confidence.
“I think it’s always unique, because the nerve of coaches is what did I not prepare my guys for? I think you can’t prepare for everything,” Campbell said about the nerves surrounding a first game. “We know that. That’s why the concentration has to be on you. Situational football, we’ve got to be locked in to details. We’ve got to do a great job on both sides worrying about that turnover margin, which is so critical to what we’ve talked about since we’ve gotten here. I think there’s so much uniqueness with the first game. Obviously, that’s no different now, especially first game with new players, first game with new coaches, something that you certainly stress out about a little bit.”
On Saturday, Campbell will put on his weathered, red ball cap and pop in a piece of cotton candy bubble gum. He’ll go through the spirit walk, the final preparations, the pregame speech and the walkout.
Then, the first chapter of the Matt Campbell era will be over, and the rebirth of Iowa State football will begin.