Fireworks display as Iowa State University team enters the field to celebrate Jack Trice Legacy before the game against TCU at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — The fireworks bloomed and fans boomed their approval. Hoopla helped frame the festivities that presaged Iowa State’s 27-14 win over TCU in Saturday night’s first-ever Jack Trice Legacy game, but the power that permeates the story that surrounds it impacts the football program every day — not simply on special occasions.
“We talked about it in our team meeting (last week),” Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell told me early last week. “Yeah, everybody gets a T-shirt. Everybody’s gonna wear this (Trice-era throwback) uniform, but you’re missing the point of this; where this young man who’s no different (from a lot of) you — can you imagine the courage that it took to, as a Black man, to leave inner-city Cleveland to come to what I’m sure at that time was all-white Ames, Iowa, and literally break the color barrier here?”
Trice died of injuries sustained in a game against Minnesota 100 years ago. He penned his iconic “I Will!” letter the night before, separated from his teammates because of segregation, but united with them in spirit — some measure of which ISU safety Beau Freyler felt like his team channeled while avenging a 62-14 loss to the Horned Frogs last season.
“(Defensive coordinator) Jon Heacock has always talked about honoring Jack Trice,” said Freyler, who notched one of four interceptions the Cyclones secured while roundly beating TCU ‘in the margins.’ “What he’s done for so many people, paving the path, and of this game, honoring him, it’s amazing that we came out with the result, but, really, I think just the way we played because in his letter, he talked about throwing his body around recklessly, and I think that’s the best way that we can honor him, is to do the same thing.”
Trice’s story, of course, transcends any football game or program. It’s both inspiring and tragic; a snapshot in time that’s nonetheless timeless because of the themes involved.
Campbell stressed last week that honoring his legacy can never be a “gimmick.” Instead, it’s a responsibility he takes very seriously.
“This guy stood for something,” Campbell told his team (3-3, 2-1 Big 12) last week. “And whatever happened, you probably know something happened there that (was not) just being a football incident. It had to be bigger than that. And the guy was literally willing to risk anything to create this powerful change in this world. And I told our kids on Friday night, ‘There’s a great saying about who defines greatness. Well, history defines greatness and the character and the human — the impact of the human spirit, that can last the test of time. We’re 100 years later celebrating the great courage of this man who changed the lives of so many people we get a chance to interact with day in and day out. I think it’s unbelievably powerful.”
ISU didn’t always look strong on Saturday night, but whenever it needed a takeaway, someone rose up to snatch one from the air. Freyler snared two interceptions — a single-game career high. Safety Malik Verdon, who returned from injury, recorded his first career interception, as did linebacker Will McLaughlin.
The defense allowed just 43 yards in the third quarter as the Cyclone offense took control by scoring 17 points in a row on three consecutive possessions. Sophomore tailback Eli Sanders scored on a four-yard run, true freshman back Abu Sama jetted 55 yards for another touchdown and redshirt freshman quarterback Rocco Becht connected with senior tight end Easton Dean for a one-yard touchdown pass that capped ISU’s outburst that sent the Horned Frogs reeling.
“I think it’s just the offensive line realizing that they’re dawgs and they can do it,” Becht said of his team’s season-best 215-yard rushing performance. “Props to them. They balled out (Saturday).”
That didn’t happen because they were playing in the Jack Trice Legacy game. It happened because they’ve maintained trust in each other — and Trice’s story is something they honor in every moment, whether in games, classrooms, or on the practice field.
“It’s huge for us to continue to pound away at that story and certainly what this place is about,” Campbell said. “Hopefully (we) continue to have great young men that he would be proud of.”
BRENDAN BLACK MAKES HISTORIC START
It had been 15 years since a true freshman started on ISU’s offensive line — until Brendan Black stepped in at right guard on Saturday night.
But how has he made such a rapid rise as a young player?
“I know we’ve talked about the maturity he has in his process, his preparation,” Campbell said of the 6-4, 315-pounder from Yulee, Fla. “How he practices every day, I think, has really lit a fuse under that group, to be honest with you. He has been the guy who’s probably been the anchor of why that group has really taken off. He’s got a spirit about what he brings to the table that’s exceptional.”
The Cyclones’ running backs have averaged 5.6 yards or more per carry in each of the past two weeks after mustering a combined 2.2 yards per carry in three previous games against FBS-level defenses.
Black’s spike in playing time track coincides with that overall improvement.
“I’m really proud of what he’s done,” Campbell said. “That’s not easy. I’ve never coached a freshman that’s ever started (on an offensive line) and to be able to do that is really, really impressive.”
Darien Porter‘s third career blocked punt late in the first half found the hands of former walk-on teammate, Ben Nikkel, who returned it five yards to the Horned Frogs’ 11-yard line.
“That’s my guy,” Porter said of Nikkel. “I love the kid. We’ve been best friends for (a long time). It’s awesome to see. I’m proud and happy for him.”
Chase Contreraz would convert a 26-yard field goal as the first half ended to give the Cyclones their first lead, at 10-7. Porter’s three career blocked punts are believed to be the most in program history.
“Their punt team, blocking down, you’ve just got to beat the tackle,” Porter said. “So after that, we had everyone else occupying the shield. It was kind of home free from there.”
**** The Cyclones’ four interceptions were their most in a Big 12 game since matching that number against Oklahoma State on Oct. 22, 2005.
**** ISU’s 215 rushing yards were its most in a game since totalling 279 yards in a 48-14 win over TCU on Nov. 26, 2021.