“POUND THE STONE”: ISU football’s unofficial field manual to success

Sep 22, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Greg Eisworth (12) tackles Akron Zips wide receiver Jonah Morris (9) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Zips 26 to 13. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Greg Eisworth didn’t often glance at — let alone stock — any bookshelves. The only “reads” the standout safety was interested in making pertained to opposing quarterbacks and how to counter them.

Until recently.

Cyclones coach Matt Campbell chose Pound the Stone” by Joshua Metcalf as this season’s team book club offering — and it’s resonated with Eisworth and his teammates.

“I honestly never read books on my own,” said Eisworth, who aims to use a combination of skill and savvy to slow slight underdog Texas Tech in Saturday’s 11 a.m. Big 12 matchup at Jack Trice Stadium. “But that’s something that I see myself doing now. We’ve had guest speakers come and talk to us and leave their books. I’ve willingly just went up and read books. I think it’s just growing knowledge and just developing ourselves as a person, outside of football. It’s something that I love here.”

Campbell’s used inspirational literature to help guide his teams through seasons and life for quite a while.

But “Pound the Stone,” he said, has proven to be both a meaningful and prophetic read for his Cyclones (3-3, 2-2 Big 12), who seek their third straight win over the resurgent Red Raiders (5-2, 3-1).

“I think we’re living that book in some ways this fall,” Campbell said before the West Virginia win. “Adversity strikes, how are you going to respond? Understanding the why and kind of just keep pounding away.”

The Cyclones have kept the “why” in sharp focus despite dealing with early, confounding, and painfully incremental setbacks.

Bam: Lighting snuffed out ISU’s would-be season opener against South Dakota State that likely would have ended in victory.

Boom: The offense floundered in what ended up being the season opener at Iowa — and top returning quarterback Kyle Kempt was lost to an MCL injury.

Damn: ISU had chances to beat TCU on the road, but instead fell on a late field goal.

Then the Cyclones gave No. 8 Oklahoma all it wanted the following week in Ames, but couldn’t keep pace in a shootout that turned into a 37-27 defeat.

Suddenly, a season bathed in promise morphed into a head-shaking  1-3 start.

But ISU kept pounding away, unearthing small shards of success that have combined to form a sizable stack. It’s a lesson that Kempt — who remains on the shelf indefinitely, but has helped true freshman Brock Purdy tremendously behind the scenes — stressed early in the season when asked about the significance of Campbell’s book club material.

“I think the thing that hammers that home is all the little things and Coach Campbell talks about that,” Kempt said before that fateful Iowa game. “Last year we weren’t sure when that big win would happen and we just kept pounding away, pounding away, pounding away. All of a sudden, we get this big win and then the stone basically breaks and we’re able to salvage a great season from it. So it’s really hammering that whole concept home, because season to season, we’re at the point now where we don’t need to make radical changes like we did when they first came in here. It’s all about finding those details within the margins. That’s really where we’re living.”


Containing Tech’s prolific Big 12-leading offense will present a steep challenge, as well.

True freshman quarterback Alan Bowman is the second highest graded player his age this season, according to Pro Football Focus, and can connect with an array of tall and talented receivers such as T.J. Vasher and Antoine Wesley.

And the Red Raiders’ defense is improved, as well — making this Saturday yet another 60-minute (or longer) crucible for the Cyclones to quarry. 

“Kind of no matter the situation, no matter the outcome, good or bad, you’ve just got to keep pounding,” said ISU senior linebacker Willie Harvey, who is two sacks from entering the program’s all-time top 10 in that category. “I mean, that’s all you can do. I feel like (Campbell’s) preached that so much to us and we’re seeing it coming to fruition in the season so far. There’s adversity. There’s close games that we’ve lost. There’s close games that we’ve won. So no matter what happens, just keep pounding the stone and I feel like that’s what we’re going to continue to do as a team.”

So pound — and swing — away. Wise words often inspire great deeds. Bound paper can contain bold ideas and enlightening truths that illuminate paths to success previously unlit, or untrammeled.  

“I love reading, so I’ve always been a guy, that I always felt like you could learn from reading,” ISU defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “First started doing it with our team when I was with coach (Jim) Tressel (at Youngstown State) in 1991. It was my first experience with a team. My first real experience of it was when I was in college, a professor, who was our head basketball coach, taught an administrative class and we all had to read, Og Mandino’s ‘The Greatest Salesman in the World.’ I thought it was really a neat experience then and then when it came back up in Youngstown in ’91 I knew why we were doing it and then we started doing it all the time and I started really reading and I’ve always been that way to develop myself a little bit. Leadership books, motivational books, motivational movies, all that stuff. I’ve got boxes and boxes of ‘em.”

Now the bookshelves are filling up for Eisworth, Harvey and the rest of the Cyclones, too. Trophy cases may continue to expand, too — but that can’t be singular aim. Winning epitomizes success, but resilience and grit are required to pound the adversity that blocks it into a more malleable substance. 

“It’s been fortunate that we read that book, because I think a lot of lessons in there have allowed us to adapt individually, but also collectively, on how we were going to approach this season and certainly some of the adversities that could have come our way — and have,” Campbell said. “So, I think some of our guys — and Kyle did an incredible job, our seniors did an incredible job, our team has done a great job, I think, of really rallying around those philosophies in that book.”


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.