Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) hi-fives with fans as running to the locker room after winning 30-7 over Texas at Jack Trice Stadium, Nov. 6, 2021, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
We can celebrate his mind-blowing 15-1 mark as a starting quarterback at Jack Trice Stadium.
We can muse about “Brocktober,” and his 30-plus school records at Iowa State.
Yet one thing we rarely do when examining what the Cyclone football program will look like once Brock Purdy is gone is think, ‘Hey, maybe they’ll be even better.”
But Purdy does.
“That’s the kind of fire that these young guys have,” said ISU’s all-time winningest quarterback in advance of Friday’s Senior Day 3:30 p.m. showdown with TCU. “Obviously, they respect us and everything, but our goal is, ‘Hey, man, learn from us and go be better.’ That’s the legacy that we want to continue to leave here at Iowa State, and hopefully, they can do the same with the guys that come in after them. That’s just how it is here. I think the culture is so valuable in that area because these young guys know that, ‘Yeah, we love our older guys and we respect them and we’re gonna learn from them.’ Now we’re gonna go show everybody what Iowa State football is about.”
These seniors — Purdy, Greg Eisworth, Charlie Kolar, Mike Rose, Enyi Uwazurike, the list could go on and on — turned that dream of modeling excellence into an ongoing reality for the Cyclones’ program.
Friday will feature tearful goodbyes, heartfelt hugs with head coach Matt Campbell and a final regular-season football game between ISU (6-5, 4-4) and the Horned Frogs (5-6, 3-5).
Such transitions can be painful, wrought with uncertainty and rife with doubt.
This one won’t be — because despite a season that fell well short of results-based expectations, the Cyclones’ seniors will undoubtedly leave the program in a better place.
Win, lose; excel or stumble, Iowa State is now a program to be reckoned with and respected.
And that is a new reality for the Cardinal and Gold crowd. These guys built that.
Campbell crafted a 497-word quote to one of my questions on Tuesday that documents that and it deserves to be published in its entirety, so here it is:
“Well, I think I would say Iowa State hasn’t sustained success ever in football. Right?” Campbell said of his team that will play in an unprecedented fifth straight bowl game late in December or early in January. “I mean, what has happened over the last five years has never happened in the history of this school, so I think what they’re showing is it’s capable. What they’re showing is, man, you got a guy like (Breece Hall). Charlie (Kolar). You’re asking (about) some of the best players, have they ever had the best player at their position in college? No. So what they’re showing is all these things are real. These things can happen. And they can happen with not being the five-star guy, and they can happen with being the guy that maybe had one offer, from you know, a MAC school, and all of a sudden, you come to here and you start every game of your career at MIKE linebacker, and now you’re up for the Lombardi Award (that’s Rose). It can happen when nobody offered you at tight end (here comes Kolar) and you’re the only scholarship offered until Signing Day, and now you’re up for the Mackey Award and you’ve had an incredible senior season.
“So I think there’s so many storylines and I get all of the other result pieces of it but have any of these guys wavered? Boy, they didn’t waver in Norman. They didn’t waver after a tough 62-yard field goal at Texas Tech. You haven’t seen this group flinch. And to me, I think that’s what it has to be about here. I think that’s how it’s got to be built here. We’re never gonna out-athlete you. We’re never gonna outscore you. We’ve gotta out-tough you and we’ve gotta ‘out-consistence’ you. And there’s times we’ve been really good in terms of the precision and detail that it takes to win. There’s times you’ve maybe been a hair-off. But from an attitude, effort and consistency in that framework of what it takes to reach your full potential — and I know I keep pounding on that because to me, that’s really what our job is. How do you reach your full potential individually and then collectively as a team?
“That’s our responsibility as coaches and, really, I think that’s every young man that comes into a program, their own personal responsibility is how do I reach my full potential and leave here at 22 years old? Man, go be a great father, go be a great husband. Understand there’s no regrets of what my collegiate career looked like, and be ready to go, whatever that is, whether it’s professionally, academically or professionally within the sport of football, reach your full potential. I think this group to a ’T’ almost as a senior class, I think every single one of them are ready to go do that one way or another in their life after football. So I think that that, to me, is as great as any win you could ever give me in terms of being a football coach.”
Don’t skim those words. Absorb them. Campbell is a teacher. He’s a mentor. When he talks about players leaving their jerseys in “a better place,” the last thing he’s spotlighting is the scoreboard.
It’s not that he doesn’t care about winning or losing. The man is as competitive as anyone you’ll ever meet. Campbell preaches “process” over “results” because reversing that order of significance can lead to a sense of entitlement. After all, you can win a game by taking shortcuts and simply getting good breaks. You can also lose a game when preparing like champions, but making mistakes and/or finding fate isn’t on your side.
As Kolar said a couple weeks ago, “there’s beauty in the struggle,” and that holds true regardless of how the standings line up. If you do things the right way, you’ll always have a chance. If your mantra is “win at all costs,” you’ll eventually find yourself losing at a regular clip because “why” has taken a back seat to “what.”
“Yeah, it’s tough because it’s really a day-to-day process,” said Eisworth, the only Cyclone to ever earn first-team all-Big 12 honors three years in a row (and likely will extend that streak to four). “You’ve got to keep chipping away, and then even when you feel like, man, we made some progress, like, it’s even harder to stay on top or to keep having success. So it’s always trying to find little ways to change or critique what you’re doing; kind of stay ahead of the game, but it’s tough. Especially here where, you know, lots of our wins and losses are by one score. … So the ball can really flip either way in all those games, so it’s finding that inch.”
Who knows if Friday’s matchup with the Horned Frogs will come down to inches like so many of the Cyclones’ games have this season. ISU’s five losses have come by an average of 5.8 points. It’s the epitome of a woulda, coulda, shoulda season, but that’s not what these seniors — or Campbell — are about.
They live in the here and now, but as those timely moments dwindle, future visions creep in — but in a good way. They’re not finished, even when Friday’s game is over and whatever bowl game they play in ends. Time is most definitely not a flat circle for these Cyclone seniors because they’re convinced the best is yet to come.
“That’s the vision,” Purdy said. “Thats the goal. And even though I’m leaving, I still want to be a part of helping anyone that comes through these doors (with), ‘Hey, this is what I’ve experienced, here’s what you can learn from that, and here’s now you can go be the best version of you.’”
Some formulas for success become stale. This one doesn’t. Give everything you have, then give back. Keep that cycle going and success takes care of itself.
“With younger guys, you always want to set a goal that was higher than yours,” said Uwazurike, who owns 13.5 career sacks since joining the program in Campbell’s first class of 2016. “You set the standard for this, now we want to raise that standard. That’s how it should be. That’s how you keep things moving. I definitely feel that same atmosphere in our locker room with all our younger guys.”
So say goodbye Friday. Cherish the memories. Make room for new ones. Because all of these seniors — whether chasing NFL dreams, or embarking on careers as teachers, engineers, or some other profession — are fully planning to do the same.
Especially Purdy, who could notch that 16th home win as a starting quarterback, but insists this relative renaissance he helped usher in at Iowa State was never, ever a one-man show … nor a one-time thing.
“I just feel like I’m a person that wants to go and not be like everyone else in life in terms of, you know, going to a program that’s already made and just being another number,” Purdy said. “I want to go somewhere and help build something for the first time and do something for the first time. So when Campbell was telling me all that kind of stuff (during recruitment), I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m all about that. I want to go do that. I know that I have the ability to go and help a program out, and I know if my head coach has that kind of vision and passion, we’ll be just fine. … Ever since that moment it’s been all about Iowa State and building this program, and putting it in the right direction for the future. I’m excited, man. Leaving here, it’s gonna be in great hands that we’ve got coming up.”