Trevor Downing (52) takes part in pre-game blocking drills last season. (Photo courtesy Cyclones.com)
AMES — Colin Newell supplied the lake house.
Trevor Downing provided the party bus.
About eight bump-filled hours later, the entire Iowa State offensive line was lounging around on Ten Mile Lake near Hackensack, Minn. earlier this summer — and loving every minute of it.
“That trip brought us all together really close,” Downing said. “We spent three days together and we all had a great time, going to the casino and boating every day. It was an awesome time.”
The burly group of blockers swam some. They chowed down plenty. As for those games of chance, though …
“I was the biggest loser, actually,” Downing admitted, smiling.
Not for long.
Downing, who played a handful of snaps in two games last season, has continued to hone technique and enhance raw power in an effort toward adopting a more prominent role on ISU’s experienced O-line in 2019.
“Through the first week he’s been really, really impressive,” offensive line coach Jeff Myers said of Downing. “I think he’s made a lot of growth from the spring and it seems like he’s approached each day with a purpose. I think he knows that there’s work to do, there’s things that he needs to clean up, but he’s a guy that you want to see on the field because he can line up and move anybody off the ball — and he has shown that consistently through the first set of practices.”
The 6-4, 300-pound redshirt freshman’s done all the right things and entered fall camp listed as the No. 2 left guard behind converted defensive tackle Collin Olson. For Downing, earning more playing time isn’t a matter of chance. It’s based on a simple equation based on time and effort.
“I just kind of come in with the same mindset every day,” said Downing, who starred for Creston as a prep and chose the Cyclones over Iowa, Kansas State, Missouri and Minnesota. “Just put my head down and work hard, I guess. Let the rest pick itself out.”
So far, so good.
Downing crucially augments ISU’s quality depth on the O-line, which has slowly developed from a subpar to a serviceable unit in Coach Matt Campbell’s first three seasons.
In 2018, Campbell reckoned the group was “a year away” from breaking through and becoming an overall team strength.
That year is here — and the O-line appears to be on schedule.
“It’s funny, the group of seniors that we have right now, they were all freshmen when we got here,” Myers said. “And really you look at the growth of that group, they’ve done an exceptional job in the weight room, in the offseason, but more importantly for me — and where I’ve seen a lot of growth — is the offensive line has come together. It’s a different room right now and they’re a lot closer that they’ve ever been. That’s the one thing that we also hasn’t had, which I think has maybe been the wave of up and down that we’ve rode here a little bit — maybe our continuity or connectedness. I think (improving) that’s put us in a really good spot.”
Those freshman-turned-seniors are leading the way. Tackle Julian Good-Jones will make his 38th consecutive start in the Aug. 31 opener against Northern Iowa. Guard Josh Knipfel will make his 27th straight start the same day. Tackle Bryce Meeker’s started 13 games in a row and Olson started 11 games last season.
That quartet of seniors has started a combined 95 games, yet they’re being pushed hard by the mostly younger guys behind them. And that’s a decidely good thing — and recent development.
“The depth is something we haven’t had here,” Myers said. “Something that we’ve worked really hard to build and to have seven, eight guys that can go into a game that we trust.”
They have it now, which along with the deeper sense of togetherness and shared purpose, means a big jump is possible, from the practice field to Saturday’s showcases.
“We just grind together,” Downing said. “It’s a brotherhood.”
A lot has changed in three seasons — and the addition of talented underclassmen such as Downing, Rob Hudson, Derek Schweiger, Joey Ramos and others ensures that positive developments remain likely after the seniors depart.
They’ve endured the hard knocks — both mental and physical — during the slow, methodical build from being thin and inexperienced up front to becoming strong, seasoned and deep.
“At times I felt like when I first got here that that room was kind of beaten down a little bit,” Myers said. “(It) was kind of looked like as the reason why. That was something I felt like we really needed to get out of them and we wanted to build this mentality. And you kind of see it, it’s spreading through the room and they’re believing it, but they’re holding each other accountable. They’re holding each other to a standard right now and, really, it’s senior-led. … It’s kind of like a four-headed monster right now. Those guys are all taking control, not only at their position, but through the ranks. Doing a really nice job and it’s really fun to watch.”
And it was on full display up in Northern Minnesota this summer, where deep bonds emerged from shared laughter, randomly-cast fishing lines and even losing a buck or two here and there.
Win some, lose some. The greater games loom this fall and determination, not chance, will foreshadow the outcomes.
“The O-line room, when I first for here, we weren’t that close,” Downing said. “But we went on that trip. … That was a blast.”