The stat almost sounds made up but trust me, it’s true.
At least one underclassman has had a hand in 27 of Iowa State’s 29 touchdowns this season, which includes both of the team’s defensive scores.
Of the Cyclones’ 13 touchdown passes, 12 of them were thrown by underclassmen and nine were caught by players with at least one year of eligibility left after this season. Only once has an upperclassman crossed the goal line during the team’s 14 rushing touchdowns.
What does that actually mean?
On one hand, it means the future is bright for Iowa State football and Matt Campbell’s program even past year four of his tenure. Part of it, as sophomore tight end and engineering major Charlie Kolar noted on Tuesday, is just logical odds with three classes of underclassmen compared to one class of seniors.
But perhaps the root of finding this statistic’s meaning can be traced back through the program’s surge onto the national stage to when this year’s senior class were just freshmen and sophomores.
Back to when players like Allen Lazard, Joel Lanning, David Montgomery, J.D. Waggoner, Kyle Kempt, Hakeem Butler, Spencer Benton and many others were laying the foundation — and setting the example — for what Iowa State football could become even once they had left the program.
“I think you’ve got to have somebody who is willing to stand on the forefront to change it,” Campbell said, pointing back to the group previously mentioned. “You have to have somebody that is willing to and is demanding to carry it on. Everybody asks, ‘What do you think about this year’s team?’ It’s what I love about this year’s team because it’s probably from top to bottom the best group of culture kids that I’ve ever been around. What you hope is that just continues to intensify.”
While Lazard, Lanning, Kempt, Waggoner, Jake Campos, Robby Garcia, Marchie Murdock, Trever Ryen and many others were so incredibly crucial to Iowa State’s success that culminated with a Liberty Bowl win in 2017, they had merely proven Iowa State’s culture could be flipped for one season.
It fell on the next group — guys like Montgomery, Butler, Willie Harvey, Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne — to make sure this new culture of Cyclone football carried forward into the next decade.
“You hope that Marcel Spears and Ray Lima pass it on to the next generation of players in the program and that continues to carry forward,” Campbell said. “In the great programs that I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, that’s what happens.”
Outside of a select few, the majority of the contributors from that team whose season ended Memphis are gone. All of the super talents who primarily defined the two-year rise of Iowa State football have moved onto bigger and better things — something best exemplified by Lazard catching his first career touchdown pass in the Green Bay Packers’ win on Monday night.
Still, the bridges to the Jon Heacock defense that shocked the world in Norman, Okla. and changed college football defensive strategy as we know it remains in the form of Spears and Lima. They are the ones tasked with the burden of making sure the culture fostered by Lanning, Waggoner, Benton, Peavy, Payne and others is passed onto Mike Rose, O’Rien Vance, Datrone Young and Anthony Johnson.
It is up to Sheldon Croney to pass the lessons he learned from Montgomery along to Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock. It is up to Deshaunte Jones to make sure Lazard’s words on hard work, preparation and leadership reach the ears of Joe Scates, the second highest-rated wide receiver recruit in school history behind only — you guessed it — Lazard.
At this point, those lessons seem to be hitting home and are making a difference, helping the redshirt freshman score his first collegiate touchdown last weekend in the win over West Virginia.
“I think Joe’s a super talent. I think he’s one of the most talented players in our program. Just a young guy that’s craving to become the best version of him that he possibly can be,” Campbell said. “He’s earning it. He’s practicing really well. He’s taking care of his body. All the little things that really good players do that have his talent and reach their full potential. It’s going to be really fun to watch Joe grow in this program because I think he’s got all the potential in the world.”
It seems like just yesterday Campbell was saying the same things about Lazard and then Butler. It is hard to believe it has been two years since Lanning sacked Baker Mayfield and Waggoner kicked the air to celebrate another tackle for loss.
Heck, I still find it hard to believe Montgomery is playing on Sundays and no longer will wow us with remarkable runs wearing Cardinal and Gold. Some of that is just because of the way time passes, but another part is that the lessons they taught and the culture they created have never left.
It just lives in the form of new leaders and new faces. Carrying it forward is way more important than any touchdown Iowa State’s seniors are ever going to score.
“We have a lot of seniors who are helping us out. Nobody really cares that much. We all just want to win,” Kolar, who has been on the receiving end of two of those 27 underclassmen touchdowns, said. “I know everyone will be excited because it shows the future is bright, but we have a great senior class and they’ve been paving the way for us.”