Iowa State offensive team members (including Jarrod Hufford, 54) celebrate after winning24-21 over Oklahoma State at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.© Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — When Iowa State redshirt freshman Jarrod Hufford made his long-awaited debut as a starter two weeks ago at Kansas State, star Cyclone tailback Breece Hall called him “a different cat.”
“He’s not scared of anybody,” Hall explained.
Now, with two starts under his belt after moving to left tackle, Hufford gave his own take on the “different cat” comment.
Spoiler alert: It matches Hall’s perfectly.
“I don’t fear anybody,” said Hufford, who hopes to help the No. 22 Cyclones (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) carve out a win Saturday at West Virginia (3-4, 1-3). “I just go out and attack.”
No kidding. Hufford’s emergence has helped ISU solidify its top five on a relative deep offensive front. It’s also been a long time coming.
Last season, Hufford had to undergo surgery on his right knee during fall camp. This spring, he contracted COVID-19, which forced him to do Dave Andrews-inspired body weight and resistance band workouts in isolation.
“I was like, ‘Can I catch a break here?’” the 6-5, 310-pound former guard said.
Apparently, he could — finally.
Hufford just kept working through both bouts of extreme adversity and his doggedness built him into one of those players Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell talks about when he says, “make me play you.”
“The great quality Jarrod has is he’s from Ohio,” Campbell, a fellow native of the Buckeye State, said tongue-in-cheek (sort of). “That’s a huge positive. We knew he was a sure-fire win.”
Yes, but …
“Jarrod has this unbelievable personality,” Campbell continued. “He has a great father and stepmother that have given Jarrod a lot of belief. He’s from a great high school football program that has one of the great high school traditions in the state of Ohio. I think he learned from great coaches there where work ethic and toughness were nonnegotiable. He has this very happy-go-lucky personality but boy, is it really important for him to play football? Yes. Does he want to be the best? Yes. Those qualities have served him well because he easily could’ve been discouraged along the way. … His ability to stay the course and really learn his craft and press forward, you saw that a year ago. He has really good length in his arms, he’s as physical as any of our offensive linemen and one of the things he’s possessed is that staying power where even though he wasn’t getting those reps early last season, when we needed him the most — and that’s in the Fiesta Bowl against an elite defensive line — he has to go step in and play.”
Hufford remembers that win over Oregon well.
“I had a great talk with (offensive line) coach (Jeff) Myers and coach Campbell about what I needed to do to get better,” Hufford said. “Then spring sucked because I got COVID right in the middle of spring ball, so then fall camp, I did my best, I tried my hardest and throughout the season every time they asked me to go in — whether it was UNLV at the end of the game, or like Iowa, I had a couple of plays and whatnot — just being prepared for it.”
That’s the key, along with being fearless and confident in his ability to manhandle any trench foe.
“A really good dude,” ISU defensive tackle Enyi Uwazurike said. “Not afraid to get his hands dirty.”
Not afraid? That’s how Hufford likes it. It’s essential. It’s why Hall also called him “a dog.” He’s relentless — on the field and elsewhere.
“You just don’t stop,” he said. “Like, there’ll be times even myself earlier in my career, it’s like, well, you know, I’ve got Trevor Downing in front of me. Like, I’m not gonna play until he’s gonna be done. So just continuing to work.”
And find a way to work himself from a backup guard spot to a starting tackle role. He didn’t do it alone, though. Derek Schweiger — who also switched from guard to tackle — and veteran Sean Foster (whom he replaced) have helped guide him as he’s risen up the depth chart.
“Last year with Trevor (Downing) down and Derek being at left guard — and I was behind him, I looked up to him,” Hufford said. “I tried to do everything he does. So with me going to left tackle, Foster has helped me too, just with hand placement, how to deal with the space.”
That, Hufford said, has been the most difficult transition, but he’s handled it well. Adaptability and resilience merge into that “different car” persona, and it’s been a win-win for both him and the team at large.
“His staying power — he probably could’ve been frustrated,” Campbell said. “He probably felt like he should’ve been the starter right away and what did he do? He earned it. He went to work and he earned the right to be the starter and over the last two games, he’s been tremendous for us. I’m really proud of him. Here’s a guy who has great values at home and he has great staying power. In a world that wants instant gratification, he’s willing to stay the course and he’s earned everything he’s gotten.”
ROSE JOINS THE RANKS OF “DAY TO DAY”
All-American linebacker Mike Rose made his 45th straight start in last Saturday’s 24-21 win over then-No. 8 Oklahoma State, but was knocked out of the game late with an injury. His status as of Tuesday?
“He seemed really good yesterday,” Campbell said. “We feel very confident that he’ll play in the football game (Saturday at West Virginia). We don’t think it’s an issue that will be very long. It’s one of those things where it’s probably more day-to-day than it is anything else.”
“When Kym-Mani (King) was — has been — dinged up a little bit the last couple weeks and the Kansas State game, just really wasn’t able to kind of function with a little bit of that club on his hand, we moved Greg (Eisworth) to the field (safety) and brought Craig in (on the boundary), and his ability to go make plays was, I think, a huge confidence booster, not only for himself, but I think for us as a staff,” I think everybody’s just really excited for Craig. Craig’s one of those guys in our program, again, that’s worked really, really hard to get an earn an opportunity to perform on the field, and I think what he did with his opportunity at Kansas State has given him more. Again, the same thought process a little bit last Saturday, Kym-Mani’s still not 100% and felt really confident with Craig going in, and I think we were rewarded for it because Craig played outstanding again this past week.” — Campbell on ISU redshirt freshman safety Craig McDonald.