Jan 2, 2021; Glendale, AZ, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell holes up the trophy after defeating the Oregon Ducks 34-17 at the 50th PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Network
The beginning of this week marked an important milestone for college football program’s across the country and completed a major step in returning to normalcy following the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time since March 2020, programs are allowed to host players on campus for camps, official visits and all other recruiting activities. Iowa State has certainly taken advantage of the return of on-campus activities, hosting two of the program’s biggest camps in recent memory, with Tuesday evening’s prospect camp including more than 350 participants.
This weekend, the program will continue to take advantage when it hosts its first batch of official visitors in nearly 15 months.
The week was scattered with various players stopping around campus to get back around the staff, including Southeast Polk offensive lineman Kadyn Proctor, the No. 9 player in the 2023 recruiting class and No. 2 offensive tackle prospect in the country, who was in attendance at the program’s camp on Wednesday but did not participate.
A guy like Proctor, who is one of the best high school football players in the country, is only there for a chance to evaluate the coaches and spend time around them. It has been a long road back to having normal opportunities like that rather than spending time on Zoom calls or FaceTime.
“I think it’s so big, just because for this 2022 class and 2023 class, you know there’s a lot of kids we just have never seen,” Matt Campbell said on the side at camp on Tuesday. “We’ve never seen (them) in the competitive environment. We’ve never got to see (them) physically. If we saw them, we saw them as freshmen or sophomores, and the growth potential of kids between their freshman and sophomore year to where they are now, it’s just great to be able to see what they physically look like.”
This camp circuit is crucial for hundreds of players across the country who are still battling to receive scholarship offers that might normally have come earlier than they are in the world of recruiting during the COVID age.
While a player might perform well on film and jump out statistically, there is something to be said for how that person performs live and in person when they know the eyes of Iowa State’s coaches are on them.
A beneficiary of this fact is Ankeny Centennial quarterback J.J. Kohl, the son of former Iowa State kicker and Kohl’s Kicking founder Jamie Kohl, who received a scholarship offer from Campbell and the staff after a standout performance during Tuesday night’s camp in Ames.
It is one thing to watch a player like Kohl, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 227 pounds, on film, but seeing him throw the ball in person, gauge if his frame matches what the recruiting services list and everything else is invaluable in the evaluation process.
“We do so much of our evaluation on film that I still think that’s it, that’s number one priority,” Campbell said speaking generally about the program’s evaluation. “But, to see them either coming on an official visit and getting to sit down with a young man and his family, and really kind of get 48 great hours with them and really get to know what they’re about what they stand for, or getting to evaluate them physically and mentally in a camp setting, and let them evaluate us in a camp setting or a visit setting, I think that’s that’s a huge positive.”
This summer will be even more special for the program with the opening of Iowa State’s brand new Student-Athlete Performance Center, which houses a new football locker room, an athlete dining hall area and numerous other never-before-had amenities for a program that is trying to solidify its standing on the national stage as more than just a one-hit-wonder.
While the building is nearing completion, Cyclone Fanatic has been told people within the program expected to move into the new locker room at the end of this week in time for the return of official visitors this weekend.
That shiny new building that has given the northwest corner of Jack Trice Stadium a massive facelift will be one of the program’s biggest selling points moving forward. Now the program benefits from selling it in person rather than by showing renderings over a call.
“There’s enough to show them that I think is really positive and again what you hope to show kids is, ‘Hey, not only is there an investment by the coaches and by the players in this program, but there is a global investment or we are really trying to continue to move forward,” Campbell said. “The building alone, I think, certainly, is a great example of that. Being able to take kids through that and show them, you know, ‘Here’s what it’s going to look like in September.’ Those things are exciting, I just think the aesthetics of, man, you pull up, it looks different and it looks like there’s a great investment right now in what’s going on.”
Of course, it helps when the program is already generating more buzz than it has at any other point in its history, coming off a win over Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl and slated to be a preseason top-10 team in the country.
While the building and everything else is good, selling winning on the field is even better. That’s why you can surely expect to see the program’s first New Year’s Six bowl trophy proudly featured somewhere in the building for prospects considering making Iowa State their new home to see.
Don’t ask Matt Campbell where it will be, though. He’s more focused on adding other trophies to sit alongside it.
“I don’t even know where the trophy is,” Campbell said. “Hopefully we are finally getting trophy cases and we can continue to add trophies to them.”