Sep 22, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Akron Zips offensive lineman Trevor Brown (59) beats Iowa State Cyclones defensive end JaQuan Bailey (3) to the fumble recovery at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Zips 26 to 13. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — It’s a time for reflection, development, and, ultimately, growth.
Fixteen extra practices, which Iowa State is happily in the midst of for the second December in a row, serve both as springboards and swan songs, for young and veteran players alike.
Next stop: The Dec. 28 Alamo Bowl matchup between the No. 24 Cyclones and the 13th-ranked Washington State Cougars in San Antonio.
Ongoing: Fully wringing every ounce of improvement and appreciation out of the postseason practices preceding that 8 p.m. game.
“I would say this year it is way more smooth,” standout junior defensive end JaQuan Bailey said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s actually kind of fun, too.”
“Being around each other,” Bailey added. “We have a lot of dudes leaving. Like (Brian) Peavy, (D’Andre) Payne, (DeMonte) Ruth, Kamilo (Tongamoa), Spencer (Benton).”
A senior send off. A chance for a nine-win season for the first time since 2000. A test lab for players on the rise, just beginning to shine on the field — or nearing that time.
It’s all that and more, which requires keen focus and time management.
“It’s been really good,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said during Wednesday’s early signing day gathering. “I gave our guys last week off, with finals. We took the weekend off (and) a lot of our guys were able to get home a little bit, which I thought was really important. Then we came back Monday night. We had a meeting and then kind of slow practice yesterday just to get back on the field, kind of get our bearings right. And then today really start to chip away at a game plan.”
“We’re in the early stages. I’d certainly love to have the majority of that done before we leave to go to San Antonio, but again, I really appreciate our kids because their attention to detail so far has been outstanding and I appreciate that.”
The extended December work is occurring in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2011 and 2012.
“This year it’s a little bit different because we did have that (Drake) game, where we got a lot of really good prep time and really kind of staying on course,” Campbell said. “So I think there was some great value in that extra week for us. And, you know, I think just being really smart about what we do. I think it’s that fine line of how much is development and how much now is really put on your football team going to win the game. “I think being in these situations and going through this — I think you just kind of keep plugging away.”
But smooth? Hectic? A welcomed new routine?
All of the above — with the reward of a 13th game looming a mere nine days away.
“I think it certainly gives these guys an idea of what to expect,” Campbell said. “And it is hard when you don’t know what to expect and the extension of that season by three, maybe four weeks, I don’t know if sometimes people don’t think about that, but there’s a lot that goes into that, especially after a year like we’ve had where there’s (been) a lot of adversity and a lot of fight that these kids had to exert. But yeah, I certainly think it’s gone smoother and there’s a great understanding of what to expect.”
Campbell said the Cyclones are “as healthy as we’ve been” and taking a week off from practice is a big reason why.
“If we would have anybody limited, probably, we would know more of that by certainly the end of this week, but I really feel like we’ll be at 100 percent going into this bowl game,” Campbell said.