NOTEBOOK: Mike Rose’s do-anything attitude shines at SAM

Sep 8, 2018; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Mike Rose (23) looks to tackle Iowa Hawkeyes running back Mekhi Sargent (10) at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes beat the Cyclones 13 to 3. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Mike Rose rarely met a sport he didn’t like.

 Lacrosse? He played it growing up.

 Baseball? Yup.

 Soccer? That, too.

 Iowa State’s star sophomore linebacker did narrow it down to two sports in high school, football and basketball,  but his approach to any game remains the same.

 “Any way I could get on the field in any sport — anything — I would do it,” said Rose, who made his splash-worthy debut in last season’s 13-3 loss at Iowa. “I’m not one of those guys where it’s, ‘Hey, coach, I don’t want to do that.’ Like, whatever coach said — I mean, they gave me a shot last year. Like I said, it’s a blessing to be on the field in any way. Whatever they give me, I’ll take it.”

 In this season’s opener against Northern Iowa, they gave him a new position: SAM linebacker. He’ll remain there for Saturday’s 3 p.m. hype-laden, ESPN College Gameday-framed Cy-Hawk game against Iowa (FS1). 

“It’s a big game,” Rose said. “Everyone knows it. But you’ve got to treat it the same way. How you would treat every Saturday. Just keep it the same way. It gives you the best shot.”

 Rose thrived at MIKE last season, earning first-team freshman All-American honors from both the FWAA and The Athletic. 

 He shifted to SAM some during fall camp to accommodate O’Rien Vance’s emergence at MIKE — and both excelled in the triple-overtime win against the Panthers, combining for 16 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks.

 “It’s definitely different playing a different position and being out in more space, but it worked out the first game,” Rose said. “As you guys saw, O’Rien, he’s a baller, so our coaches are trying to put out on the field who they think is most ready to play.”

 Rose was more than ready against the Hawkeyes last season. He notched 11 tackles and registered several bruising hits that turned heads.

 So did he consider it a “big game” for him? Not quite.

 “Well, last year we didn’t win,” Rose said after briefly chuckling. “So I just need to do my job and do what’s best for the team and try to win it this year.”

 That’s mostly playing SAM, but he’s playing some MIKE, as well.

 Cyclones coach Matt Campbell applies his “multiple” approach to every position group — not just skill players — and his linebackers, led by senior Marcel Spears Jr., embody that quality as well.

 “What we asked Mike to do — kind of bouncing back and forth at times between SAM and MIKE isn’t easy,” Campbell said. “But again, I think Mike’s a guy that the more he’s played the more we’ve put on his plate. And he’s a guy that I almost feel relishes that opportunity to have more on his plate. Mike is a guy that from a physicality standpoint can play in the box, but I think it shows you how talented he really is with his ability to go out of the box at times and play in space. (I think) he’s had some huge plays for us, a couple of tackles for loss, did a really good job in the pass game out there for us.”

 He’s also working to become the type of leader Campbell hopes he’ll be. He said he has good teachers — from Campbell to Spears, to quarterback Brock Purdy.

 “All those books, everything (Campbell has) given us, all that stuff helps,” Rose said. “All of that. Just being around leaders, too. Marcel and Brock, some of my good buddies, they’re both captains. Leaders create leaders, so the more you’re around them, it’s easier to become one.”


 Iowa State guard Josh Knipfel was perplexed. He’d always been taught to finish every play, so when his helmet popped off during a big run in the season opener, he kept playing. The result: a flag for failing to extricate himself from the scrum, which can be hard to do.

 “I feel like every football player, we’re taught at a young age that you play to the echo of the whistle,” Knipfel said. “So I just feel like if you ask a lot of guys, it’s been programmed since third, fourth, fifth grade. I didn’t know that was a rule. I was told if that happens again you just have to disengage from the play and essentially just stand there.”

 Again, hard to do if you’re a competitor.


 Campbell called Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa a “generational talent” and said the Hawks’ entire D-line is adept at winning one-on-one situations.

 Just like ISU’s defensive front, Iowa’s qualifies as elite.

 “That’s where their strength has lied for so many years on the defensive line,” Campbell said. “If you’re just going to focus on one guy, somebody else is going to expose you. When you’re talking about A.J., you’re talking about, probably, a generational talent in terms of pass-rush ability. That’s one of the things that’s been really fun to watch, and being a former defensive end and former defensive player, you have a lot of respect for a guy that has so many tools in his toolbox. He has the ability to expose you on every snap. We’re going to have to find ways to help ourselves out.”

 ISU will face that Hawkeyes front possible down a man. Center Colin Newell (MCL) is “questionable” for Saturday’s Cy-Hawk game. Fortunately for the Cyclones, more than one guy could serve as a viable replacement, whether it be tackle Julian Good-Jones, who started an entire season at center, or versatile converted D-lineman Collin Olson, who’s shown the ability to shine there, as well.

 Increased depth on the O-line better equips the Cyclones to handle this type of adversity but exactly how the front five will be constructed Saturday if Newell can’t go remains a work in progress.

 “The reality is we shuffled during spring practice, multiple guys played center during fall camp — Julian started there his entire sophomore year and played there in a game a year ago. Again, it’s about putting the best five out there that give us the best chance to be successful. If Colin’s not out there, I feel we’re a lot more ready to handle that situation if it presented itself, today, than we have been.”


 Campbell said both running back Kene Nwangwu and safety Braxton Lewis should be good to go for Saturday. Nwangwu rushed for 30 yards on four carries in the season opener before re-tweaking a hamstring injury.

 “(Nwangwu) did practice at the end of last week,” Campbell said.

 Lewis, a senior, didn’t play against the Panthers because of an injury sustained late in fall camp.

 “Braxton was able to practice last week, which was really good for us,” Campbell said. “The thing that Braxton has always brought to us has been a veteran presence and a guy that has a great understanding. We’ve asked him to do so many different things in our defense and play so many different positions. He brings a sense of veteranness to that defensive backfield, which I think is really big for that group.”


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.