Jan 2, 2021; Glendale, AZ, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell in the first half at the 50th PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Network
Andrew Mevis has never kicked a football in a game for Iowa State.
Heck, he hasn’t kicked a football in any game since 2019 because his former team, Fordham, didn’t play last season.
Come Saturday when Northern Iowa comes to Ames, though, the strong-legged graduate transfer aims to do something Cyclones fans saw little of in recent years — produce touchbacks. Lots of them.
“I’m just really excited to be back on the field and ultimately play with a group of guys who absolutely love football,” Mevis said on media day.
He fits right in. And even though he’s not officially been bequeathed ISU’s kickoffs job — he is listed second on the depth chart behind veteran placekicker Connor Assalley — it’s clear Mevis was brought in to alleviate some of the problems associated with that aspect of special teams.
“I think he gives us maybe some threats and consistency in areas that maybe we haven’t had over the last year and a half, two years,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said after spring camp concluded.
Mevis was brought in to provide precisely what Campbell talked about. In his last season at Fordham, 50 of his 63 kickoffs boomed through the end zone. ISU’s kickoff team notched just 10 touchbacks in 75 kickoffs last season — and ranked 115th in FBS in touchback percentage at 13.3 percent.
“I want to lead the country in touchbacks kicking off,” Mevis said. “And also any opportunity for a field goal 55 (yards) and in, I should knock it down. I think at the end of the day that’s what I came here to do and I’m confident I can do that.”
Assalley has generally handled shorter field goals and done that exceedingly well. He’s third all-time at ISU with 44 made field goals and second in extra points (133).
But if Mevis can deliver on just one of his “wants” — the touchbacks part — the Cyclones will turn its special teams Achilles heel into a weapon. However that shakes out, the Indiana native is loving every minute of being in Ames. Heck, he’ll finally have the chance to kick in a game again — and this time, in front of a crowd of 61,500 at Jack Trice Stadium.
“This culture here is something that all together, it’s hard to put words to,” Mevis said. “It’s just amazing. Everybody is really excited and working together for each other.”
BULLISH ON THE BACK END
ISU’s coaches believe they’ve built quality depth at every position — including cornerback. Standout senior Anthony Johnson agrees.
“It’s going to be so exciting when the young guys are in there,” Johnson said. “(At corner) there are so many guys that can play. I don’t know if I’ve ever had this much confidence in our group. It will be fun to watch.”
One of many guys to watch back there: Sophomore T.J. Tampa, who’s listed as Johnson’s backup at left corner.
“Oh, Tampa’s gonna be special,” Johnson said. “Tampa’s a star waiting to be noticed. Tampa’s that dude.”
“THE JACK” WILL FINALLY BE PACKED (AGAIN)
Last season, no one was allowed to attend ISU’s season opener. Eventually, friends and family could attend games. But now, with some COVID-19 protocols eased, the Cyclones can finally play in front of a fully-stocked Jack Trice Stadium.
How will that feel after the strangeness of the 2020 season? Well, kind of strange — but in a good way, Campbell said.
“I think having fans again will be a unique dynamic this fall,” Campbell said. “The one thing last year when there weren’t fans, that was a whole new dynamic but you almost learned to appreciate the game more. The emotion was kind of taken out of it from the fan standpoint and it was almost like playing football in the backyard again. You had to realize that you have to create your own momentum. I think sometimes the mirage of the fans and the mirage of the game day experience is a thing but you also have to realize it’s a mirage and it doesn’t dictate the outcome of the game, you dictate the outcome of the game. I just think there will be a heightened sense of energy and heightened sense of momentum that’s created from the fan base. We have to adapt back to that and not let it overtake our performance. Something we talk about is our preparation and detail have to match the energy that will be created the fan base. It’s a thing we’ll have to adapt back to that may sound easy but might not be with 18 to 22-year-olds. We’ll all feel it on Saturday and it’ll be a special feeling. We just have to make sure it doesn’t overtake us.”
CYCLONE (AND PANTHER) PRIDE
It’s secret that ISU senior tight end Chase Allen has strong ties to Northern Iowa. His dad, Terry, was the Panthers’ quarterback in the late 1970s and a successful head coach from 1989-96. His brother, Alex, is a sophomore tight end at UNI.
“They’re always talking about Panther pride to me,” Chase Allen said. “So I want a little better outing (than ISU’s 29-26 triple-O win over UNI in 2019) for the Cyclones this time around. But definitely a special time for our family. It’s so cool. I mean, we took a picture together on the field, with me, my brother, and my dad last time, and I remember everything about that game. It means a lot to me, so just to be able to do it again is really special.”
“The question is, ‘How does this team become the best version of itself?’ You have so many different dynamics. We have veteran guys that have played a lot of football, how do we improve those guys? How do they take another step forward? We have a big chunk of guys who only have marginal playing time. How do we get with those guys and figure out the consistency part of it and how do we get them to play with the level of excellence we need? Then there’s this whole group of young guys who haven’t played a down yet. How do we get those guys to improve and grow? For us, this has been the most unique puzzle we’ve put together because we have so many different guys and so many different groups of guys that need so many different things. That’s been a unique challenge. And it’ll show on Saturday if we put the puzzle together right. That’s an exciting thing as a coach.” — Matt Campbell on his No. 7-ranked team entering the season.