AMES, Iowa — In 2017, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell talked a lot about that senior class laying the foundation for the future of Iowa State football.
It was the Allen Lazard class, who was the best receiver in Iowa State history. It was the Joel Lanning class, who switched from quarterback to linebacker and became an All American. It was the Kyle Kempt class, who was a third-string, walk-one Junior College transfer who took over at quarterback and led the Cyclones to the Liberty Bowl.
That group laid the foundation. This current group of seniors that will play in their final home game on Friday against TCU, built the structure on that foundation.
And it’s an impressive structure.
Iowa State has never been able to sustain success in its history. Johnny Majors, Earle Bruce and Dan McCarney all had moments of success, but none were able to sustain it for one reason or another.
This senior class for the Cyclones was able to sustain success. They will go to their fifth-straight bowl game this season, they played in the Big 12 Championship game last year and won the Fiesta Bowl, a New Year's Six bowl game. They’ve done things that were unheard of and frankly, things people didn’t think were possible at Iowa State.
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This year hasn’t quite gone according to plan for Iowa State’s seniors. The Cyclones are 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big 12, but their body of work and what they've built is unmatched by any group before it.
“I texted our team this morning (Tuesday), and I actually used those words, ‘There have been other classes that have laid foundations, but this group has filled in the framework,’” Campbell said. “They have taught everybody that it can happen here, it has the ability to happen here and how it will happen here.
“Those are huge cornerstones and those are huge building blocks in terms of success, winning, playing at an elite level and having the ability to handle positives and handle negatives. This group has done every single one of those traits and they’ve done it in a first-class way every single time.”
It’s a senior class that was recruited based off of a vision and a hope. The Cyclones were a 3-9 football program when this senior class was recruited.
They turned it around.
“I look at this class, it’s obviously really special because it’s a group of guys that is a mix of our first two full recruiting classes,” Campbell said. “We were able to get into the weeds with them, develop culture and relationships with them. They came on the premise of we were 3-9 and man, can you help us change the culture of Iowa State football? It’s a sincere feeling of appreciation and gratitude. It’ll be emotional for me because every step of the way, this group has had elite courage, an elite standard of excellence and it’s never waivered.
“To me, the season we’re having is almost fitting because I think it’s defining of the fact this group has never waivered, they’ve never flinched and they just keep playing."
What’s impressive about the class is it hasn’t just been about one guy or a group of guys. It’s not just Brock Purdy or Mike Rose. It’s not just Charlie Kolar or Enyi Uwazurike. It’s not just Chase Allen or Greg Eisworth.
While it’s not a one-man show, it’s hard not to appreciate what those individuals have turned themselves into. Rose was committed to Ball State before his Iowa State offer, Iowa State was Kolar’s only power-five offer until signing day, Uwazurike was committed to Toledo until he decided to follow Campbell to Iowa State.
“Iowa State hasn’t sustained success ever in football,” Campbell said. “What has happened over the last five years has never happened in the history of this school. What they’re showing is it’s possible. What they’re showing is a guy like Charlie — has Iowa State ever had the best player in the country at their position? No. That’s happening now with him and Rose — not to mention Breece (Hall), who’s not a senior. What they’re showing is all of these things are real and they can happen. And they can happen without being the five-star guy.”