Sep 12, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones offensive lineman Sean Foster (75) blocks Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns linebacker Chauncey Manac (17) at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
The shoutout initially seemed odd.
One name stood out prominently when Iowa State star defensive end JaQuan Bailey thanked numerous teammates and coaches after setting the program’s all-time sacks record in Saturday’s win at TCU.
Sean Foster. As in Cyclone senior offensive tackle Sean Foster. As in the highly-touted recruit from the Chicago suburbs who saw playing time dwindle and nearly evaporate ever since starting in a humbling 13-3 loss at Iowa in 2018.
So why Foster? Because, like Bailey, he’s persevered. Foster’s early-season efforts for ISU (1-1, 1-0 Big 12) serve as a testament to his own grit and persistence, but is also broadly emblematic of the growth, tenacity — and even “swagger” — that’s cropping up along the Cyclones’ makeshift offensive front.
“It’s funny you bring up JaQuan and his brother (Joshua),” said Foster, who will help to provide push for ISU in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. (ABC) matchup with No. 18 Oklahoma (1-1, 0-1) at Jack Trice Stadium. “Ever since that Iowa game, things kind of went downhill for me. But those two have been in my ear pushing me every single day to get to that next level, keep working on my craft and to play confident. I give all the credit to those two because they have done a lot with me and kept my head sane for a long time. It’s important for me to give credit to them because of how much effort they’ve put into me and how much they’ve pushed me to be in this spot.”
Apparently, Foster’s had the same effect on the Bailey brothers and others throughout the Cyclones’ program — including, of course, his fellow offensive linemen.
ISU coach Matt Campbell has repeatedly said propelling the O-line from serviceable to good and maybe even great has been the “last piece” in development in terms of player personnel.
That piece — even with two key components (Trevor Downing and Robert Hudson) missing because of injury is finally advancing with marked progress.
Case in point: The win over the Horned Frogs.
The Cyclones ran for more than 200 yards in a conference game for the first time since a 30-14 win over West Virginia, on Oct. 13, 2018. More importantly, the line opened gaping holes for Breece Hall, who rushed for 154 yards and a career-high-tying three touchdowns, and Kene Nwangwu, who jetted 49 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s really just continuing to grow,” Campbell said of the offensive line. “There was a lot of great growth between week one and week two. The way they were able to play in critical moments last week was really big. I said this early in the year, but I feel like we have a chance to be a really good offensive line. In both games, we’ve seen flashes of that. Then it’s about the consistency — that’s what we’re looking for. Them developing a standard of excellence, at least early in the season, to where we want to go and what we want to play to. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we’ve taken a really huge step forward. I think we’re at least on the right track right now.”
That’s because even in an era of social distancing, the ISU offensive line found ways to deepen a sense of togetherness and common cause during the offseason. New strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews and his staff greatly aided that development, too.
“I think what I like about this group is there’s a sense of a little bit of a swagger about itself and I appreciate that,” Campbell said.
They have each others’ backs. Always.
“That’s one of the main things our offensive line has been working on since the Notre Dame (bowl loss),” Foster said. “After the game, we just had a meeting and we had to go to work. We know the offense goes as far as we go and that’s the mentality we carry on our back. It was really big for all of us to actually grow with that mentality and bring (debut starter) Darrell (Simmons) with us. You guys saw how well Darrell played this weekend and that’s all attributed to him buying in with all of us and us all buying into the product. Yes, we have a great running back, yes we have a great quarterback, yes we have great wide receivers. It’s our job just to keep them clean. That’s been our mentality throughout the offseason.”
Still is. That’s why Foster continues to persevere. That’s why Bailey publicly applauded him. Now everything hinges on turning progress into the consistency Campbell and his staff seek — even as the league’s juggernaut looms Saturday night under the lights.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Sooners were a touchdown favorite according to vegasinsider.com.
“They’ve been a good program since I’ve been really young and for us to even be mentioned with them as getting close, that’s a big honor for all of us because we know what it was like during my freshman year when Iowa State was the laughingstock of the Big 12,” Foster said. “Now, we’re being compared to them. That’s pretty self explanatory because we feel we have the senior leadership that believes that we’re able to compete every single Saturday.”
ANOTHER DAY-TO-DAY DAY
Campbell reiterated that banged-up offensive linemen Trevor Downing and Robert Hudson, along with dinged up receiver Tarique Milton, remain day-to-day.
“All three are very similar to what I stated after the game and yesterday,” Campbell said. “All of them are day-to-day and we look forward to getting out to practice today to see if any of (them) made any growth they may have had from last weekend to our first practice today.”
Iowa State redshirt freshman guard Darrell Simmons impressed both coaches and teammates after making his first start at TCU. Simmons’ emergence provided more visual evidence that the offensive line is progressing to the point that even players who have been rarely mentioned can step in and perform well.
“I think confidence becomes earned by how you play,” Campbell said. “I think the fact of the matter of it is Darrell is maybe as talented in terms of his physical traits (as) any offensive lineman in our program. Darrell’s a young man that wasn’t highly recruited, but a young man that came to our camp (and) was really, really impressive and, I think, has come in and has gone through his own growth process. I think Darrell will tell you at some point that hasn’t always been an easy process, but what Darrell has done is he has really bought into his teammates this summer. I think some veteran guys have had a huge impact in a positive way on him. Darrell has really bought in. Darrell loves football and Darrell is a really physically talented and physical football player.”
“I don’t know if that means anything to be really honest with you. From my standpoint as the head coach at Iowa State, am I glad that our fan base gets an opportunity to come in and be a part of this journey? I do because they’ve been so so great to us from the day we’ve gotten here. So I’m happy for them, but does that have any bearing on how we play or the style we play it? It has zero.” — Campbell on the prospect of having 15,000 fans in the stands for Saturday’s game.