Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell watches from the sideline during a NCAA college football game in the Cheez-It Bowl against Clemson, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Iowa State football is not going anywhere.
That’s the sentiment Greg Eisworth hammered home late Wednesday night in Orlando. The senior safety from Grand Prairie, Texas, had just taken off his Iowa State uniform for the final time.
The Cyclones had just lost to No. 19 Clemson 20-13 in the Cheez-It Bowl.
What started as the most anticipated season in Iowa State football history was over in disappointing fashion. The Cyclones went from starting the season No. 7 in the AP Poll to finishing with a 7-6 record.
None of us thought this is how the run for Iowa State’s greatest senior class would end, but it did — and, sad as it is, we have to say goodbye to this group that created life-lasting memories for so many of us.
But, don’t get it twisted, even as these guys move into the next phase of life, play in the NFL, have families and become outstanding members of society, Iowa State football isn’t going anywhere.
“We earned our way here,” Eisworth said. “That’s what I told those guys in there, ‘I’m proud of y’all,’ and be proud to wear the Iowa State logo, because, for a while, some people weren’t that proud to wear the logo.”
“We’ve put ourselves in these situations, and we’re going to be here for a long time.”
All you have to do to know that statement will likely hold true is look at the stat sheet from this loss to the Tigers.
Iowa State’s leading tackler in this game, safety Beau Freyler, is a true freshman. He posted 15 tackles, nine of them solo stops, and a quarterback hurry. The Colorado Springs native was around the ball on nearly every play.
The most amazing part is he’s stepped into a position previously held by the Big 12’s Co-Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2020 and the defense didn’t skip a beat.
Isheem Young was a great player for Iowa State before he entered the transfer portal earlier this month. Freyler has an opportunity to be a great player, too.
“I think he’s got as special (of an) upside as maybe any young guy that we’ve had in our program,” said Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. “What he’s done for us has been nothing short of exceptional.”
Iowa State’s leading receiver in this game, Jaylin Noel, was a true freshman. He caught four passes for 54 yards and had a nice kick return during the second half.
The offseason buzz surrounding Noel was palpable upon his arrival in Ames. Everyone who talked about him raved of his playmaking ability.
It took a while for that to translate on Saturdays, but, once it did late in the regular season, it did in a big way.
That guy paired with senior Xavier Hutchinson, who is returning for another year in 2022, will make a highly dynamic duo for Hunter Dekkers to target next fall.
That dynamic duo could be a trio if Sean Shaw can go into next season fully healthy, which he looked to be for the first time all year on Wednesday, catching three passes for 32 yards.
“When you have X coming back and then Jaylin playing the way we played,” Campbell said. “Sean Shaw coming off of surgery midway through the season, getting him back, all of those things really positive from an offensive standpoint.”
Tyler Miller made his first career start at left tackle against one of the best defensive fronts he’ll probably ever see in his career. The kid got thrown into the fire while the bullets were firing and was forced to step up.
Was it a perfect performance? Nope, but nobody expected one from a redshirt freshman. He’ll be better for it when he’s expected to step into a role as a full-time starter next fall.
“We think Tyler Miller has got a chance to be exceptional,” Campbell said. “To play those two defensive ends and against that defensive front and really play a pretty good football game, I think those things are really exciting.”
There are surely people out there who think I’m being too positive right now, and don’t get me wrong, there are still things with this program that need to be sorted out.
The slow starts to seasons and games are becoming an Achilles heel. The program can’t reach the next level of its development without sorting that out on some level.
There are holes in the depth chart that could probably be filled through the transfer portal and further additions to the 2022 recruiting class.
Those things will all be dissected tirelessly in the coming months, but, after what I watched on Wednesday in Orlando, it is really hard to not feel highly positive about the future and direction of this program under Campbell.
I’m going to miss the hell out of watching this group of seniors. Guys like Brock Purdy, Charlie Kolar, Chase Allen, Eisworth, Mike Rose and so many others in this group are freaking warriors.
They’re one of the best groups of competitors I’ve had the pleasure to watch on a week-to-week basis and they took a plucky underdog of a football program in Ames, Iowa, and turned it into a program that expects to win every time they step on the field.
It doesn’t matter if they’re playing Clemson, Oregon, Kansas State, Oklahoma or Texas. This program is going to come out and compete their asses off until the final buzzer sounds.
They’re going to give themselves a chance to win every week — and, for that, we should all be grateful.
“There were a lot of people when I got there that were embarrassed to wear an Iowa State shirt and an Iowa State hat around,” Campbell said. “Now, it’s a sense of pride.”
The Iowa State football brand means something now. This isn’t the little-old program we all fell in love with and celebrated chances to gather around to drink in a few parking lots in Central Iowa.
This is a program that is being built to win — and win big.
It is closer to that than it has ever been, but we clearly all overestimated how quickly the timeline was moving along.
Iowa State football isn’t to the point of winning championships yet, but, man, it was hard to watch that football game in Orlando and not feel like that day is coming sooner rather than later.
That’s a credit to Matt Campbell and his staff, that’s a credit to this senior class, and, boy, oh, boy, that’s a credit to this group of young players coming up in this program.
I couldn’t be more excited for the future and to eventually look back on the moments this group of departing players gave us to lay the foundation for what’s to come.
It’s like Babe Ruth tell’s Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez in The Sandlot.
“Heroes get remember, but legends never die.”
To be a legend, you have to leave a legacy. That legacy will be defined by whatever comes next from this program and that group of young players who stepped into big shoes to make significant impacts on Wednesday.
“Now, we are coming,” Campbell said. “We are not going away. We are strengthening.”
Yeah, Iowa State football isn’t going anywhere.