“Fun” is the operative word today, tomorrow and especially in January

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a couple weeks, Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell and his staff will gather the Cyclones together for winter conditioning workouts.

Win or lose in Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. Liberty Bowl game against Memphis, the process will play out precisely as planned.

No deviations. No modifications. A shared vision will be remapped, with fresh faces poised to drive the focus forward.

Saturday’s result — and all the top-five wins and narrow losses that led into it — will become as moot as yesterday’s news, which truly excites Campbell.

“We’ll start meeting once we get back in January (and) we’ll vote on that,” Campbell said. “I think one of the greatest rewards you can get in our program is to be thought of in our program as a leader. That’s all classes. That’s all position groups. And that team started meeting last year in January and met weekly up to the start of the football season.”

Guys like Joel Lanning. Allen Lazard. Jake Campos.

Guys who will play their last game for ISU as 20,000 of their own fans try to drown out the throng expected to cheer on the hometown Tigers in a sold-out Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Guys who know this opportunity for a first bowl win since 2009 is their last one, but also a portend of what yet may come.

“I think it’s huge,” said Lanning, a two-time captain whose offseason switch from quarterback to MIKE linebacker became the talk of college football. “Yeah, obviously we want to win, but I think it’s more for the program and the younger guys in the program. Obviously if you go out with a win it keeps guys hungry and motivated for the next year wanting to get better and come back to winter workouts with a great attitude as opposed to, I think if you lose that, it kind of drains people a little bit.”

These Cyclones (7-5) overcame many depleting moments during a resurgent 12-game slate.

A slew of uplifting ones dotted the landscape, too, due largely to the steady, guiding influence provided by those leaders voted in last January — as well as the next in line for 2018.

“When we come back really two weeks from now, there’ll be no Joel Lanning, no Allen Lazard and no Jake Campos,” Campbell said. “Who steps into those roles and how do they. And those conversations have already been had with a lot of guys in our program. I think that’s the thing that’s really fun about my job and that’s what’s great about coaching and that’s what’s great about building a program, is the expectations don’t change.”

It’s because ISU’s coaches and players never look back, but plan the present in order to make a bright future possible, that all the talking points this week fell flat.

 **Oh, Iowa State guys, this is a true road game. How do you  feel about that?


“Expecting a great crowd,” said Lanning, who’s parents haven’t missed a game, home or away, in his ISU career. “Pretty much the city against the 100 guys on the team that we have. We’ve kind of been in this situation before, so hopefully guys come ready to play. I’m just expecting a rowdy crowd out there.”

 **So … some Memphis players overturned the Cyclone helmet during a photo op and said you’d be mad? What’s the reaction?

 *Smile, shrug*

“They can do whatever they want,” said Lazard, who’s poised to play on Sundays next season. “We’re not too worried about it or anything. We just play football and, I guess, have better class.”

 **Now, it’s awful cold here in Memphis this week? How will that affect things?

 *blink, shrug*

“I couldn’t feel my fingers the whole practice, but somehow I managed to catch the ball, but it’s all good,” standout tailback (and likely soon-to-be captain) David Montgomery said. “I’m going to have fun.”

That’s the point. The grist of it all. Cut through the matchups, the Riley Ferguson-Baker Mayfield comparisons, ISU’s unprecedented zero fumbles lost this season (so far), the turnover margin intrigue and on and on, then linger on that one word.


That’s how the next cadre of captains will approach the new beginning they’ll be afforded in a couple weeks.

Win or lose, the blueprint’s now etched in stone. Different fingerprints will trace it’s execution, but the obstacles in the way remain the one given.

It’s not about being forced to overcome them. It’s about attacking them with relish, smiling — and maybe shrugging — while saying, ‘On to the next.’”

“I feel like, you make anything what you make it,” Montgomery said. “There’s people that can go out and say it is what it is and be negative about it, but if you tell yourself in the mind it isn’t what it is, you’re going to be a whole lot better with it. Just as simple as practice. Practice can be like negative-four degrees and we go outside and it’s cold and it’s freezing, but if you tell yourself that that it’s going going to be a bad practice and it’s freezing, then it’s going to be that. But if you go it in knowing that, ‘I’m blessed to be here and it’s practice — everybody can’t do this in the world,’ you’re going to have a whole lot more fun than you did thinking about it negatively.”

Yes, you are. And yes, you will. Game time.

“Really, the expectations only get greater and yet it all goes back to starting this process all the way back at square one,” Campbell said. “How you come into work out. How you get better day in and day out. You’ve got to win the month of January and you’ve got to do a great job of developing in your program.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.