Nov 23, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) celebrates after a touchdown against the Kansas Jayhawks at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Jayhawks 41 to 31. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
There’s an almost meditative quality to fishing.
One rod and reel. One line. Each cast encapsulating a unique moment in time — a ripple in the water extending ever-outward.
And then, you wait.
Sure, the quality of your gear, along with knowledge of the best spots, the proper bait, or the best lure increases one’s odds of success.
But mostly, you wait, unsure of when — or if — success will come with a splash of water, a stern, but steady twist of the reel and, ultimately, a satisfying catch.
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy spent a lot of time fishing when he was quarantined in Florida during a spring break trip with family that turned into a lengthy and rewarding stay with extended loved ones.
He’d fish. He’d pray with his dad and brother. He’d search for answers to life’s deeper questions, because his laser-like focus on football, for once, could wait.
“I think that was a really powerful time for Brock,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said today during a Zoom call with media. “It’s been a whirlwind for Brock in a lot of ways during his first year and a half here in Ames. I think it was good for Brock. It was healthy for him to step back away from football and to be a kid again, to go fishing, to hang out with his brother, to be with his family. What I love about Brock is that his family is really important to him. The best thing that could’ve happened for Brock is that there wasn’t spring football. He was able to let his body heal and get healthy. He was able to grow outside of football instead of inside of it. The message to our team and coaches when we left was, ‘You have to grow. If you don’t grow, you’ll get left behind.’ That was something for Brock where it was good for him to leave Ames and get around his family. It was a powerful time for him and his family.”
Purdy is defined by his production. He’s certainly provided an ample supply of it. The 6-3, 215-pound junior enters this season third on the program’s all-time chart in passing yards (6,232); first in passing efficiency (157.0), first in 300-yards games (9); third in touchdown passes (43); second in completion percentage (65.9); and first in consecutive games with at least one passing touchdown (12).
A quick perusal of ISU’s record books shows Purdy could — as long as a season is played, of course — break almost all quarterback-based marks in his junior year.
He’s that good, but he’s more than that. Much more.
“I’m a man of faith so my father and I, my brother, every single morning would just read the word and talk about our faith and everything,” Purdy said of six weeks spent with family in Florida. “Understand what our purpose is here in life — especially with everything going on. For me to be able to step back and understand that life’s not all about football and sports and everything, there’s a much bigger thing going on, with the whole pandemic and everything, it made me question everything going on. Why I’m here and stuff, so being able to understand what my purpose is here in life I think was huge for me and to be honest with you, just cleared my mind up. And then we fished and did all the outdoor activity stuff to keep our minds fresh and away from all the craziness going on, which I think was great, too, but I think mentally being able to refresh and find that drive of why I’m here in life I think that was huge.”
Football’s a big part of it, but just that, a part. And last season, it finally began to wear on him. Often banged up, Purdy would nonetheless apply significant pressure to himself. A bum ankle meant his marvelous mobility would be mostly lost, but he still had his arm — and to him, it singularly held the weight of Cyclone Nation.
“Being in Ames for a year in a half so far and always thinking about football and what I could do better to help this team…” Purdy said. “It was just football, football, football and I felt like there was a lot of pressure and stuff going on in my head and stuff as far as what happened last year. So just being able to be with my family for a month in a half, just being able to fish, to have my mom cook dinner and stuff and be with my father, my brother, my sister — for me, there’s nothing better. It was a blessing, honestly.”
The 2019 Cyclones lost five games by a combined 21 points and finished below self-expecations, record-wise, with a 7-6 mark capped by a 33-9 loss to 15th-ranked Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando.
Purdy didn’t disappoint when it comes to numbers or leadership. Still, he felt he could have done more in every area within the program — and is intent on doing just that in 2020.
“I just want to help everybody around me take their game to the next level,” Purdy said. “That’s a personal goal for me because I’ve been in the film room, I’ve gotten healthy and obviously there are little things I could do with being able to understand all of the coverages that defenses are trying to do. I’m doing that and everything but the next step for me is elevating everyone else’s game and making sure they’re grinding away so that I don’t have all the pressure on just myself. Last year I felt like everything was on my shoulders but we have great guys surrounding me on the offensive line, running backs, tight ends, receivers. If I can get all of those guys on the same page, then we can roll from there.”
Campbell spoke often last season about how Purdy already was doing many of the things mentioned above. But he knows there’s another level to reach — new heights to conquer — and all of Purdy’s and ISU’s fluctuating fortunes feed into that future vision.
“I think the biggest thing is Brock has had so many experiences,” Campbell said. “Right? Life is about experiences. Positive and negative and learning and growing from them — and at a very young age at the collegiate level, Brock has experienced all those: positives, negatives, ups, downs. I think the one thing Brock knows, is Brock knows who he is. Brock’s never, ever tried to be somebody else. Brock’s always tried to be the best version of him. Quite honestly, as we came back in January, you saw a young man that completely understood where he was. What has occurred over his first two years of playing the sport of football at the collegiate level. And then understanding also where he wants to go. I think when you have somebody like that at the quarterback position, that’s a huge asset to your team. Because I’ve always felt like when the quarterback is like your 11th coach, then really great things can happen and that’s really what Brock has become. He’s almost a player-coach at times. He’s a guy that doesn’t need somebody to to self-start him every day. He’s a guy that’s driven to be great. And he’s a guy that demands the best of everybody around him and you’ve seen him do that at a really high level, whether that’s just the ability to communicate with his teammates over the last couple months, whether that’s the ability to get his teammates accountable to fundamentals and details, or whether it’s as we’ve been back even in his group, in demanding the accountability of simplicity. Touch the line. Start behind the line. Do the little things right. It’s been really fun to watch Brock grow, but again, the greatest thing about Brock Purdy is he’s not trying to be anybody else. He’s just trying to be the best version of himself and he’s trying to do something.”
Which brings us back to fishing. Once you’re good at it, you fondly remember the big ones that got away for whatever reason. A poorly-set hook. A bad setup. The wrong choice of bait.
It’s all part of the process. Cast a line. Settle in. Breathe deep and wait for — with the proper preparation and perspective — the ultimate catch.
“When I talk about my faith and everything, I really do mean it,” Purdy said. “I’m just trying to understand that everything in life happens for a reason. Last season happened for a reason to me. This offseason, I’ve read books to try and understand how to deal with pressures and anxiety. I can go back to those experiences and reflect on them — what I could’ve done better, what I did do right. Those are all things I’ve been thinking about in the offseason. The quarantine has provided a great opportunity for me to step back and reflect on everything that’s going on. I’ve been taking my mental health more serious than anything — my ankles are all healed up — but being able to get right mentally was my main focus this off season and so far I think it’s been great.”