Nov 30, 2019; Manhattan, KS, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) scrambles with the ball during the fourth quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Campbell is in an enviable position, but a unique one nonetheless.
Entering year five in his tenure at Iowa State, Campbell’s program is led by one of the nation’s best returning quarterbacks in junior Brock Purdy. Over the last two seasons, Purdy has solidified himself as an on-field producer unlike any in program history, sitting near the top of every major career statistical school-record list a quarterback can attain while having only started one full season and three-quarters of another.
That is the enviable part of Campbell’s position entering the 2020 college football season.
The unique portion is for the second consecutive season the players behind Purdy on the depth chart have never taken a collegiate snap at quarterback. Last season, that backup was redshirt freshman Re-al Mitchell, who at least appeared in one game and had experienced putting on the pads at the college level.
Mitchell transferred to Temple in the offseason, which leaves the program in a more unique situation than a year ago. The two primary players battling to be Purdy’s backup have not only never taken a collegiate snap at quarterback, but never even suited up for game day at the collegiate level — true freshmen Aidan Bouman and Hunter Dekkers.
For that reason, the answer to who would replace Purdy if necessary remains largely a mystery, especially at this point with the Cyclones having only a little more than a handful of fall practices under their belts.
“I think it’s really early from a quarterback standpoint to really give a grade or a thought other than I’ve been greatly impressed with our entire freshman class,” Campbell said during a Zoom call with the media on Friday. “I think this freshman class is at a great advantage to any other freshman class with what occurred in March and April and in May and having the ability to at some point get into some meetings, at some point being way ahead of the schematic schedule of what most freshmen have.”
“I think both quarterbacks as freshmen come in with a great knowledge of what this offense is and have really done a great job executing. A lot of credit to Coach Gordon so far. Both have great talent and have certainly been ahead of the curve of maybe where I thought they would be at this point.”
In a normal year, Bouman would certainly have a leg up on his classmate considering he enrolled in classes at Iowa State in January, but, if we have learned anything in 2020, this is not a normal year.
One of the most prolific signal-callers in Minnesota prep history, the Buffalo, Minn. native did not get the benefit of the spring ball period standard early enrollees receive. Like Dekkers, his first snaps with the entire Cyclone offense came this summer once the program returned to the field following the COVID-19 pandemic’s shutdown of all things athletics.
For that reason, you have to imagine the two players enter the fall on more or less an even playing field, at least from a knowledge standpoint. On paper, Dekkers is the more talented — or at least more highly-decorated — of the two prospects, considering his status as a four-star recruit and distinction as the No. 13 dual-threat quarterback in the country in the 2020 recruiting class, according to 247Composite, honors he earned after an equally prolific career at in-state small school power West Sioux.
“They’re great. They’re really solid for being freshmen. They seem smooth in their transitions and their reads and making really good throws,” All-Big 12 safety Greg Eisworth said. “So, you know, it’s been good. Even when they’re rolling with the twos and threes — and, you know, our coaches like to mix it up — they’re giving the defense good looks. It’s not a huge drop off, which is always good. You know, it’s kind of early on in camp so I want to see how they handle a little bit more, but so far you know they’ve really impressed me.”
At the end of the day, the biggest advantage Bouman and Dekkers could possess in their early development is the guy who leads their room has been in their exact position. Just two years ago, Purdy was the true freshman who arrived for fall camp without the experience of spring ball and zero collegiate experience under his belt.
A short while later, his name was called to take over on the Cyclones’ second drive of their third conference game against a ranked Oklahoma State squad. What Purdy did with that opportunity — leading the team to a victory and putting the talent we’ve all come to know so well on display almost from the jump — will live in Cyclone history forever.
Not a bad mentor to have if (fingers crossed for hopefully not) one of the young freshmen has to enter a game in a crucial situation for whatever reason.
“I’d take Brock Purdy over any quarterback in the country. But what I would say is, from a leadership standpoint, when that guy is consistent. And when that guy is the same guy every day, then you know he gives your football team a chance to be successful,” Campbell said. “We’re certainly lucky that we’ve got a very talented football player from a skill standpoint, but even more talented in terms of mental makeup and leadership. We all are. We’re very blessed to have a leader like that.”