[Author’s note: Over the next several sports-less weeks, Cyclone Fanatic is re-running many of my “Where Are They Now” features. Typically, we like to include an update at the end of these reissued articles, but that’s not always possible. Fortunately, Bret was kind enough to speak to me recently, so please find an updated story on how he’s handling self-quarantine at the bottom of this “Where Are They Now” piece. —RG, March 31, 2020]
Bret Meyer tried to man up on defense, but found success to be elusive.
The soon-to-be star senior quarterback at Atlantic High School was attending Iowa State’s football camp and going through an array of arduous drills on both sides of the ball — just like everyone else.
Finally, then-ISU assistant Chris Ash mercifully intervened.
“(He) wanted me to sit out,” Meyer said of Ash, who’s now the head coach at Rutgers. “I was trying to play defense and I was terrible. I couldn’t tackle anybody and I got a stinger the first day in camp. And he was like, ‘Hey, you know you can play quarterback the whole time.’ And I’m like, ‘All right, I think I’m better at that. I’ll just do that.’”
A wise move.
Meyer excelled at that position — and nearing the end of camp, it appeared a momentous opportunity would soon present itself.
“My uncle, (former Cyclone and NFL great) Keith Sims said, ‘I think they’re going to offer you a scholarship,” said Meyer, who would soon become an ISU great himself. “I’m like, ‘What?’”
Cyclone coach Dan McCarney answered that one-word rhetorical question on an ensuing in-home visit.
“Whether it was that phenomenal home he came from — I remember that home visit like it was last week,” McCarney said. “Just the love, the loyalty, the support, the discipline, the structure, the no-nonsense, it was all there. So as a coach, you want each guy — it’s a team sport, it’s the greatest team sport God ever invented — but change yourself, improve yourself, challenge yourself. He was just one of those guys that did such a great job of that.”
Meyer’s future path had been determined. He owned one scholarship offer. And one love: Iowa State.
“I was very fortunate to get a scholarship but I’m glad I kind of earned it,” said Meyer, the subject of this month’s ‘Where Are They Now?’ feature. “I had to show up to camp and go through the drills like everybody else did and walked out better than I was when I got there. To get the scholarship, for me, that was a big deal. I never took that lightly and that’s something I’m grateful for to this day.”
Meyer ended his high school career the best way possible: Guiding the Trojans through an undefeated season that culminated in a Class 3-A state title.
Initially, there was talk he may grayshirt in 2002 at ISU.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” said Meyer, who added he weighed around 180 pounds “soaking wet” at the time.
But Meyer immediately began to grind in the weight room, building his body while shoring up his understanding of the intricacies of the game.
“I was able to come in and prove myself,” me said.
So Meyer redshirted instead — and watched the 2002 Cyclones struggle to a 2-10 mark, including a winless Big 12 season.
By the next season, he’d compete for and win the starting nod at quarterback. And ISU’s overall fortunes would swiftly change for the better.
Meyer threw the first two of his ISU record 50 career touchdown passes in a defense-dominated 23-0 season-opening triumph over Northern Iowa.
He helped the Cyclones win four straight games to propel them to the cusp of the Big 12 North title — until a still-stinging 17-14 home overtime loss to Missouri ended those hopes.
Meyer and his teammates regrouped to post the programs second-ever bowl win, a 17-13 defeat of Miami of Ohio in the Independence Bowl.
“You want to do better, but being able to play in bowl games is special,” Meyer said. “The reality is at Iowa State, those games are big for us. So to be able to play in two and be able to win one, that was special.”
Meyer had established himself as a leader. In 2005, he began a three-year run as a team captain. And ISU appeared to be poised for the type of season that could mirror the success of the dynamic 2000 team that finished 9-3.
The unranked Cyclones beat Illinois State to open the season, then drilled No. 8 Iowa 23-3 in week two.
Meyer knew his team was special — across both sides of the ball. He also knew how much beating the Hawkeyes meant to coach McCarney, who had earlier helped the Cyclones end a 15-game skid against his alma mater.
“They had NFL talent all over the field and our defense was playing downfield all day and we were able to win,” Meyer said. “That was a big day.”
Rougher times followed.
A 27-20 overtime loss at Nebraska thwarted a possible 4-0 start. A head-shaking 23-13 loss to Baylor came next, along with a 27-24 overtime loss at Missouri.
ISU responded with four straight blowout wins, but ended the regular season with a devastating 24-21 overtime loss at Kansas.
A victory would have clinched the Big 12 North title, which again proved painfully elusive for the Cyclones, who finished 7-5 after a 27-24 Houston Bowl loss to TCU.
“I know I was fortunate to play as much as I did and have a good career, but there definitely is a lot of regret, what if, and a lot of frustration,” said Meyer, who holds ISU career records in passing yards (9,499), completions (820), pass attempts (1,414), TD throws (50), 300-yard games (5) and consecutive passes without an interception (155). “Unfortunately I still think about that.
“That year we really, when I think about it, we could have set the program up for a lot. Having an opportunity to play for a Big 12 championship and to not get it done the last game of the (regular season). Overtime sat Nebraska, we had opportunities. Obviously Kansas was the one — going up 14-3 and really controlling the game. To this day, I don’t even want to think about what happened in that one. I still get sick to my stomach thinking about it. But to your point, there definitely are a bunch of what ifs. We were a good team and I think to finish that year with seven wins, I don’t think anybody was satisfied with that.”
Still, one win rose above all the rest during that mercurial season: a 42-14 thrashing of Texas A&M on the road.
Meyer connected with fellow record-setter Todd Blythe for four touchdown passes that day, while the defense ground the Aggies into dust until the outcome had long since been cemented.
“Todd and I just, for whatever reason, some teams, and I don’t know why, they just felt like they could cover him one-on-one,” Meyer said. “And it was just like, ‘Ok. If you’re going to man up we’re going to change the play and throw him the ball.’ … “We just had a really special day, but obviously it wasn’t about just us,” Meyer said. “We had to control it and run the ball and our defense gave up 14 points that day, and it was in garbage time, so yeah, just overall a great team win.”
McCarney said it’s one of the most satisfying highlights in his 45-year career in D I coaching.
“That day, it felt like one of those days where these are two guys that might have been friends since they were in kindergarten, which they weren’t,” McCarney said of the Meyer-Blythe tandem. “But it just felt like they must have been together their whole lives. And just executed with such precision. It was so much fun. It’s a team sport. I get all that obviously, but that day, it was incredible. … They kept playing the same coverage and I kept saying, ‘If they don’t adjust, let’s keep going after them. Let’s go. Go after them.’ And the look in their eyes that day was amazing. When you see 80-90 thousand people start to haul ass out of that stadium — Kyle Field — late third quarter, that’s one of the great feelings I’ll ever remember in my life, in my career.”
The Cyclones struggled in Meyer’s final two seasons, posting a 4-8 mark in McCarney’s last year as head coach, and finishing 3-9 in Gene Chizik’s first year at the helm.
Meyer’s proud of the bowl win and consecutive winning seasons, but remains haunted by some of the what-ifs.
“McCarney meant a ton to everybody, not only the team but the community and Iowa State as a whole,” Meyer said. “Again, you just look back and think, ‘What more could I have done as a player, as a quarterback, as a leader?’ It’s something that bothers me to this day.”
Meyer, McCarney said, impressed him immediately as a stern competitor, who took an all-in approach to personal responsibility.
“He was laid back, cool, calm, collected, stylish, handsome, off the field — a student of the game, good student in the classroom,” McCarney said. “But when he stepped on the field, there was a fire in his eye. You always could see it, that burning desire to excel, be good, and to not get beat. You see that in the great competitors in the 45 years I was in Division I football and he was sure one of those guys.”
Still is. Meyer lives and works in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area with his wife, Carina, and one and a half-year-old daughter, Olivia.
“She’s smart, man,” Meyer said. “She’s starting to learn (a lot) at daycare, and talk. She’s definitely brought a lot of joy into our lives.”
Meyer has perfected the art of putting life in perspective while adding meaningful layers along the way.
The strength of the relationships he helped build easily overshadow the regrets that recede into memory.
Bonds endure. Heartbreak eases.
“It starts with great relationships and you hopefully build that incredible chemistry, and then you build that real family and it is real,” McCarney said. “When those things are in place, then special things can happen. Magic can happen.”
Both Blythe and Meyer remember epic “Call of Duty” battles in their South Duff town home. OK, well maybe not “epic,” but intensely competitive.
“I don’t think any of us were probably very good but as long as we just played each other, and as long as we all sucked it was OK,” Blythe recalled.
“Me and (Austin) Flynn were probably the best,” Meyer said. “Todd was the worst and JD (Jon Davis) was probably in the middle.”
“I want to make them laugh,” Meyer joked.
That’s how good friends roll — then and now.
“To this day, I have a text message conversation that goes on with Blythe, and Flynn, and Milan (Moses), and Jon Davis,” Meyer said. “We talk about a little bit of everything. We disagree — obviously everything right now, and everything that’s going on, but at the end of the day we’re always close with each other. We’re always joking. We’re always congratulating each other when somebody has a child or somebody gets married, whatever the case may be. Those relationships were obviously an important part of my time at Iowa State, whether it’s living together, going to the grind, playing video games. Whatever the case was, we were always together and that’s a special thing about being on a team, especially now, when a lot of people could probably benefit from that type of exposure — different types of people, different types of backgrounds. I’m just fortunate.”
***UPDATE STORY BELOW ***
Bret Meyer’s unaccustomed to having spare time on his hands.
The former standout Iowa State quarterback’s always been working — whether in the classroom, on the football field, or now, in the business world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously altered his busy life’s pattern, but he’s making the most of it with his wife, Carina, and two daughters, Olivia (4), and Violet (turns 2 in July).
“I work in the medical device field and I’m in hospitals, so as you would imagine, they’ve shut down any unnecessary visitors, so basically I have nothing to do,” Meyer said.
That’s true when it comes to his profession. Less so in his current role as stand-in daycare educator.
“In a situation like this, you just have to find positives,” said Meyer, whose family lives in the Twin Cities metro area. “It’s hard for me, because I’ve never in my 35 years spent this much time just doing — I don’t want to sat doing nothing, but just sitting at home. But it’s great to spend this much time with your kids and being to spend more time with Carina, my wife — we’re enjoying our time together, but it’s stressful for sure. I definitely had an appreciation for teachers and educators before, but I think everybody, hopefully, will walk away from this with even more respect for them.”
Meyer said watching his daughters learn on a daily basis is something he’ll always appreciate when looking back at this otherwise difficult time.
He’s learning to teach, too. Daycare sent home some worksheets and notes on the curriculum. Bret and Carina are helping keep their kids on schedule and educationally engaged.
“To see them learn and to sit back and watch them, watch them make mistakes, watch them get frustrated and kind of help them through it has been interesting,” Meyer said. “That’s probably the one thing you don’t (usually) get to do as much of. … I don’t have any experience teaching. So I’ve kind of had to learn to sit back and let them — especially the four-year-old, Olivia, just kind of work and not try to do everything for them or correct everything.”
Meyer owns several career records at Iowa State, including passing yards (9,499), passing touchdowns (50), total offense (10,422 yards) and combined passing-rushing touchdowns (62).
He said it’s hard to believe the 2020 college season — whatever form that may or may not take — will mark his 13th year removed from the sport.
But life is good. And fond football memories linger. About a week ago, B & G Video Productions Tweeted out a highlight clip of the fabled Meyer-to-(Todd) Blythe game at Texas A&M. The duo connected for four aerial touchdowns in that 42-14 rout in 2005.
“I guess (that) was one of our best statistical games and probably one of the better wins we had during our time,” Meyer said. “So it’s definitely fun to see that come up and be able to have a little banter back and forth and have some fun with it.”