“Passing the torch.”
It’s a time-honored phrase highly-coveted Iowa State class of 2022 commitment Xavier Townsend takes to heart.
The talented running back will be doing it this fall for his current coach, Dominick Ciao, once he concludes his final season at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Fla.
Townsend will be doing it again — in reverse — as a promising freshman for the Cyclones next fall.
And nothing could be more exciting and humbling for the speedy 5-11, 180-pound athlete who announced his commitment to ISU 10 days ago on Twitter.
“It goes back to what my high school coach talks about all the time,” said Townsend, a three-star recruit according to 247 Sports who chose Matt Campbell’s Cyclones after receiving 30-plus offers. “It’s pretty much passing the torch to the younger guys and what essentially I’m going to be doing after this senior year — passing the torch down to the younger guys and the younger class. And the same thing with Iowa State: They have a strong senior class right now and I think they’re gonna do something great this season and when we get up there they’re gonna be passing the torch to us. It’s our responsibility to keep that fire going.”
Those embers will be well-maintained.
The 2021 Cyclones will almost certainly be ranked in the top 10 in every conceivable preseason poll for the first time in program history.
Townsend and his fellow Class of ’22 recruits will be following with interest from afar, but strictly adhering to Campbell’s oft-stated practice of “living in the moment.”
He’s not just a crucial part of what will become ISU’s new wave next season. He’s a leader for a Buccanneers program committed to chasing a state title.
So it’s first things first. Always and forever. A big decision has been made, but a mammoth task still looms on the immediate horizon.
“That’s awesome, just getting that (commitment) out of the way,” said Townsend, who has scored a combined 32 touchdowns rushing and receiving the past two seasons. “Not only being OK with the decision but feeling great about it. It’s a great feeling because you get to go in the year with only one mindset: winning a state championship. That’s my goal this season. … So it’s just great being able to go in there focused on it every time we get to our facilities.”
Townsend — who turned nearly 40 percent of his catches (10 of 27) into touchdowns the past two seasons — visited the Iowa State campus in early June. Fellow Tampa products Rocco Becht (quarterback) and Greg Gaines (receiver) visited at the same time. All three committed to the Cyclones, but during the visit, everything was still up in the air for Gaines and Townsend. There were no knowing glances. The process was progressing rapidly, but no one “just knew” they’d all choose to reunite next season in Ames.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I was gonna like it as much as I did,” Townsend said. “Then I got to spend a few days up there and I loved it. And then throughout the visit, just talking to Rocco, because he was already committed at that time, so Rocco was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I like this, I like this.’ So I’d talk to Greg and everything like that and he’s like, ‘Man, I like the way they use this receiver on this play.’ We were already talking about the plays and how we can go into it, so I’m not surprised that we all ended up there.”
But first things first. Townsend plans to continue developing into the consummate all-purpose back. An athlete capable of breaking any run into a huge gain or touchdown, or gathering in a short pass and darting by defenders with quick-cut precision.
“One of my strengths is not only being a running back or being seen as a running back,” Townsend said. “I feel — and in the coaches’ eyes as well — being seen as an athlete. Being able to play in the slot and getting a few snaps in the backfield and just having the background from what I do in high school and everything like that. Getting in the punt and kick return game. So just being versatile is big on my strengths. I feel my cut-making ability separates me from a lot of players. Just making people miss. And I feel like me (studying) film and not just being an athlete, but a football player, knowing the defenses, knowing the soft spots and everything like that with the defense — knowing exactly where they’re gonna be and what they’ll be doing each week, I feel like that can separate me from other players.”
Another way Townsend separates himself from others?
He doesn’t just tout his strengths. He also refers to areas for improvement bluntly as “weaknesses.” No sugar coating. Just striving to get better every day.
“Just top speed,” Townsend said. “I can get it going. I just want to unlock a new gear. That was big for me this offseason. Just working on the mechanics and everything like that. Route running. Just want to be crisp on everything; just cleaning up everything as a whole, because of course, I can get better in many ways.”
So both torches are burning bright, but the one he’s preparing to hand off in four months or so pulses with the most intensity right now, as it should. It’s not hard to compare the two, though. After all, both are lit by the same type of match.
“The biggest thing is a five-star culture and that’s what my high school coach preaches every day,” Townsend said. “Just the culture in the locker room, the camaraderie between teammates and everything like that. Being a better teammate as far as looking for each other and not just yourself. Teams win championships, not players. So just hearing what coach Campbell was saying and how it lined up so well with my high school coach, coach Ciao, it was just a no-brainer. They have the same core values, which my high school coach instilled in me. So it’s nothing but just continuing with what I already know.”