Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell watches over his team during warmups prior to kickoff against Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Normally you come to my content for x’s and o’s. How the nuts and bolts came together to create the machine of the game. But with the Iowa game, that isn’t really the story. There isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t been said about the game itself. As the adage goes, “It’s not about the x’s and o’s, it’s more about the Jimmy’s and Joes.”
During my senior year, I was about 250 pounds. My last season was more fullback/tight end than running back with James White and Shontrelle Johnson doing most of the true “running back duties.” That let me eat whatever I wanted because mass is good, right?
I was still working out all the time, still lifting, still playing. But once that all stopped, I should have stopped my eating. I did not do that.
I got up to 258, and not a good 258. At that point, I had a hard look in the mirror. Literally and figuratively, I had to stare at what I saw but also had to stare at what the image in the mirror meant. I hated it.
I worked out more, ate better, and got down to 225 over a few long, hard years. It took a lot of habit building and self-discipline. But I was where I wanted to be. But that didn’t last forever.
A few years later—although it was the same me, the same working at a gym, the same situation—I started walking around at 235.
Objectively, I should be happy with 235 coming from where I was. I was in the gym all the time, doing what I needed to, eating mostly cleanly, and was 23 pounds down from where I had started. But I knew there was more to do and that I wasn’t doing it. I was way better than before but not as good as I need to be. I committed to getting rid of that late-night sweet and chopping out unnecessary portions (like a second or third helping) and got me right back down to 225 in a matter of a few pretty easy weeks.
A wise coach (or a million) once said, “You are what you put on film.” The film is your team’s “mirror.” It hides nothing, it cares none, and it reveals the difference between excuses and reasons.
Right now, Iowa State, specifically offensively, is that 235-pound Jeff (metaphorically speaking). Very much not the 258-pound Jeff. They are still quite good. And there aren’t fundamental changes that have to happen. This is not a dire situation that causes a reexamination of all of the things that got you where you were. There are tiny tweaks that can change and bring back what you know you can accomplish.
This situation comes with the knowledge that you have all the tools and habits and processes in place to succeed. It’s the same situation that you were in, you are just approaching it differently for some reason. Human beings simply being human—maybe a complacency here, a fear of failure there, trying to be too perfect somewhere else.
But then you look in the mirror. You see what that says. It shows that you got your butt kicked by a team you can’t stand losing to because of things that you did. You put yourself here.
Now, what do you do?
There really is one choice, and that’s to double back on the work and passion that got you to your best in the first place that for one reason or another left you. You get back to the things that made you successful.
The success of this team will ride on the result of that decision. And if the past has told us nothing else, it’s that this group of Cyclones will do the disciplined work. They will pick up after Louisiana and round out the rest of the year with only two more losses. They recognize they’re not *far* off, but they are off and must get better.
Sometimes we, as humans, just need a mirror to remind us how.
I’d hate to be the next mirror that this team looks at.