Sep 16, 2017; Akron, OH, USA; Iowa State Cyclones offensive linemen Bryce Meeker (74) blocks Akron Zips linebacker Jamal Davis II (9) in the third quarter at InfoCision Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — How different, personality-wise, are Iowa State offensive line stalwarts Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker?
Let Coach Matt Campbell explain.
“I think that those two in particular, are drastically different individuals, but both have the same mindset,” said Campbell, who added during media day that he’s challenged the redshirt junior duo to emerge as top-tier culture changers on the O-line. “What I love about Bryce is, Bryce, I think we kind of challenged. We saw this good-looking player, but what was his investment of being as good as he can be early in his career? Bryce, literally since we’ve been back from this bowl game, has maybe been the most consistent guy in our program. He’s had a phenomenal offseason. He’s really honed his craft and you see what you would usually see in a a junior, or a young man’s that becoming a junior — that’s totally investing in himself.”
“Julian is kind of a lively personality,” Campbell said. “He’s got a bigger-than-life personality and yet he’s got this big heart and he really cares. So two kind of totally different guys, but two guys that when (they) need to be challenged will step up to the challenge.”
They face their biggest crucible now. And the duo from Cedar Rapids — Good-Jones, a center/guard from Washington, Meeker, a tackle from Prairie — is eager to take it on.
“Whatever coach has in mind is what’s best for the team and I just want to help the team win,” said Good-Jones, who carries the Cyclones’ longest active game started streak of 24 into the Sept. 1 season-opener against South Dakota State. “We’ve been preaching, ‘We before me,’ so that’s what I’m all about.”
Meeker’s all about that, too.
Campbell’s lit a fire under both of the experienced O-linemen in an effort to propel the position group from a perpetual work in progress to an observable strength for the first time in recent memory.
“In each position group, that culture has got to change in its own sense,” Campbell said. “In a lot of those position groups, it has. To be honest with you, that group is still trying to get to that point. Who’s the one that’s gonna finally draw the line in the sand, or the group that’s gonna draw the line in the sand? (To say), ‘This is who we are, this is where we’re going.’ And I think that’s a really unique challenge for those two. We’ve talked about it. Those two know it. I think they would tell you I express that probably in a very unique way at times to those two. But those two are very talented. Those two have the ability to become very good. And those two — what an amazing opportunity to leave this program in two years and say, ‘You know what? Look what we did. We changed the culture of what it means to play O-line at Iowa State.’”
It’s both a directive and imperative Good-Jones and Meeker don’t take lightly. They push each other as much as Campbell deploys his own “unique ways” to help vault them forward.
“I think coach Campbell’s a world-class motivator,” Good-Jones said. “He knows his players really well and he knows what to do to get them going. He knows what to say to me to get me going. There’s different ways to motivate different people.”
His preferred method with his O-line’s foundation?
“He just comes at me and Julian,” Meeker said. “He pushes us. He pushes us to our limits at all times of the day and I think to be at the championship level you have to be pushed at that kjnd of a level.”
Campbell said if Good-Jones and Meeker can continue to ascend the leadership and performance ladder this season, their peers will climb, as well.
They’ve already come a long way from base camp.
Good-Jones (6-5, 296) said he arrived on campus as a freshman “kind-of skinny” and “not very strong.” His bench press max at 225 pounds has gone from one rep to 20.
“It’s a huge testament to coach (Rudy) Wade and his staff,” Good-Jones said. “Man, they’ve really taken us and pushed us farther than I thought we could go.”
Meeker (6-6, 309) was expected to eventually contribute at guard. Instead, he’s blossomed (and bulked-up) into a starting tackle with two potentially highly-productive seasons remaining.
“That guy’s just a workhorse,” Good-Jones said of Meeker. “He’s a beast in the weight room and he inspires me. We’re in the same (group). So when I see him putting up — he benches a lot — so when I see him doing that, I’m like, ‘Man, that’s something I really want to do.’ So he inspires me to get stronger and work harder.”
Likewise, Meeker raves about Good-Jones.
“I would say with Julian, it’s just dedication to the game,” Meeker said. “He’s dedicated to his craft. His footwork, his everything is just on point at all times and I think that’s helped me because I’m more of a guy that just kind of wants to go out on the field and hit somebody. Julian’s really defined his craft and I think that’s something I’ve learned a lot from.”
Different personalities. Same goals. One shared “unique challenge” being met, day after day.
“I do love both of those young men,” Campbell said. “They’re young men that do care. They’re working really hard and I think it will be a really powerful opportunity and moment if they have that ability to make that change, because they’ll have done it without a leadership in front of them to show them how.”
**** Junior guard Josh Knipfel is poised to join the top leaders at the position this season. Campbell noted how the Iowa Western C.C. transfer didn’t even arrive on campus until last June. Then, once fall rolled around, they had him run the stadium steps and …
“I think Josh almost passed out on the stadium steps,” Campbell said. “And I’m like, ‘Hmm. Maybe it will be a little farther away,’ and then we walk out for our first game and he’s starting.”
Campbell also called Knipfel (6-5, 309) “probably” the Cyclones’ most efficient lineman in 2017 and he’s trending upward.
“He is now, part of, just like Julian and just like Bryce, he’s a guy that has unbelievable leadership traits,” Campbell said. “And one of the things that I love about him is you can say to a young man, all you want to say is, ‘Be your best version of you every day.’ I know what we’re going to get from Josh. He’s going to be the best version of himself every day he walks out to practice. … I think he’s an anchor to the success of our program.”
**** Remember when Campbell spoke so highly of redshirt freshman Colin Newell in the spring? Well, Newell’s done nothing to lower expectations.
“Fantastic,” Good-Jones said of Newell’s emergence, which could allow him to play more at guard. “He’s really taken huge strides even from the spring. We worked all summer — individual drills and group drills — and he’s gone above and beyond my expectations and I think the coaches’ as well.”
Here’s Campbell’s updated take on Newell’s continued growth:
“Him emerging at such a young age has been critical to us maybe having the ability to become better, faster,” Campbell said.
**** Campbell said it’s a good thing the Cyclones aren’t very close at fully identifying their top-five offensive lineman. I found his reasoning here to be both insightful and fascinating:
“To be honest with you, we’ve been there the past two years and you weren’t maybe as fired up as you maybe always wanted to be of what was settled on,” Campbell said. “But that’s just the cards you’re dealt. We do have some competition right now and we do have guys fighting for spots. We still don’t have enough if it. We’re still a year away from being where you really want to be — that everybody’s job feels threatened a little bit. But, I think, we’re a lot closer today than where we were and again, we’ve talked about this: that position is so different than any other position. It’s like developing a big man in basketball. It’s the same thing. These guys, naturally — most offensive linemen I’ve ever been around — are late developers because their body’s catching up to who they are. So to say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to bring these guys in and all of a sudden we’re going to be that much better,’ that’s not happening. Tight end’s very similar to that and that’s where now you see these guys as redshirt sophomores and redshirt juniors and they’ve played reps and they’ve gotten and experienced failure. Now they can work through that and say, ‘How do I go about my business?’ That’s big, in my opinion.”