Jack Sadowsky headlines an Iowa State linebacking corps brimming with talent

Nov 18, 2023; Ames, Iowa, USA; Texas Longhorns running back CJ Baxter (4) is tackled by Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Jack Sadowsky (33) and defensive back Myles Purchase (5) in the second half at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sara Diggins-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — Iowa State’s Jack Sadowsky fully earned his starting linebacker spot as a true freshman last fall. 

 That’s a rarity within the Cyclones’ program — and it took the 6-2, 245-pound Batavia, Ill. native a while to feel like he fully belonged in the high-profile role.

 “When you’re going out there as a freshman, you’re not really sure if you deserve to be there, necessarily,” said Sadowsky, who joined former star Mike Rose as the only freshmen linebackers to start every game in a season for ISU since 2007. “I think the more I’m out there the more confident I become in that position and the people around me only helped me to grow and become better.”

 Sadowsky’s rookie success story included a stat line of 33 tackles and 2.5 stops for loss. He also notched a quarterback hurry for a depth-laden unit that lost Gerry Vaughn to graduation and Carson Willich to a torn ACL this spring, but returns several players with valuable playing experience.

 “Jack is a special kid just because he loves football,” Campbell said in advance of Saturday’s 11 a.m. spring game at Jack Trice Stadium. “He works really hard at his craft and I think that’s probably the (area) Jack stood out so much from him doing mid-year as a high school senior to, really, the reps that he got last year.”

 But several of Sadowsky’s teammates are making striking progress as well under first-year linebackers coach Colby Kratch. Former walk-on Caleb Bacon came off the bench to total 60 tackles last season, along with three sacks. He also had eight quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble — so who precisely starts this season for the Cyclones at linebacker could remain fluid well into the fall.

 “In my opinion, maybe since Mike Rose has been here, (Bacon’s) the most talented linebacker that we’ve had,” Campbell said.

 And he’s far from alone in terms of being a head-turner in the room. 

 “I would tell you probably the most impressive spring right now would be Kooper Ebel,” Campbell added. “(He’s) been nothing short of exceptional this spring, so I think that part’s exciting because I think what Jack has done and how he did it has probably kind of laid the groundwork for the excitement that’s really surrounding this linebackers room.”

 So consider Sadowsky a headliner of sorts, but he’ll likely share top billing with several others, including experienced players such as Will McLaughlin and Zach Lovett, as well as skilled true freshman Cael Brezina.

 “You’re talking about a lot of guys that we feel like, from top to bottom, the competition’s gonna be hot and heavy going into fall camp,” Campbell said. “Who (are the) starters? Who’s playing in significant minutes? I think that room’s got a chance to really take a huge step forward from where we were a year ago.”

 That stern competition, of course, is welcomed by Sadowksy and everyone else in the linebacking corps vying for the most snaps.

 “Jack plays really, really fast,” Kratch said. “Really smart kid. He’s a great leader and I think he’s improved every practice and he’s still really young.”

 The same could be said for several of the most highly-touted linebackers for ISU. They’ve taken to Kratch in his first season after replacing longtime Campbell assistant, Tyson Veidt, who left the program to become Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator.

 “(Veidt’s) coached a lot of really good ones, so getting to spend every day working hand and hand with him before leaving for North Texas was huge for me,” said Kratch, who learned under Veidt during previous stops at ISU and Toledo.

 Sadwosky and his fellow linebackers’ growing confidence is also big for the Cyclones, who seek to help the team forge a winning season for the seventh time in the past eight years.

 “I think that everyone in the room has something to prove this year,” Sadowsky said.