GRAY: Landen Akers’ first career TD was largely symbolic — and that’s what makes it special

Dec 5, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) reacts after scoring a touchdown during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. Iowa State would go on to defeat West Virginia 42-6. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

 AMESBrock Purdy smiled as the excitement built around him.

The call was in. The buzz was palpable. History would be made.

Precisely 2,184 days since receiver Landen Akers committed to Iowa State — and 2,206 days since his last touchdown for Cedar Rapids Washington High School — the swift senior went in motion, flared toward the corner of the end zone and Purdy delivered.

 Yes, Akers finally hit paydirt — just as tight end Charlie Kolar had promised would happen a couple of weeks ago. That it occurred on Senior Day in the No. 9 Cyclones’ 42-6 clobbering in West Virginia at Jack Trice Stadium added to the invigorating aura. And that it helped ISU (8-2, 8-1) clinch a spot in the Dec. 19 Big 12 title game only sweetened the sensation more than five blood, sweat and tear-stained years in the making.

 “Obviously we were on the sideline when we heard the play call and it was funny, a bunch of receivers and everybody around (receivers) coach (Nate) Scheelhaase were going crazy, because they knew the ‘Landen play’ was coming up. … I was just praying that I was able to throw it accurately. I knew he would be there and he was, so to be able to celebrate with him and have the whole team on the sideline ready for him when he came jogging off, it was special. It was sweet. That guy is someone who doesn’t always get the credit, but he deserves it. He’s been through a lot. I love him as a brother.”

 Akers’ long-awaited touchdown was more symbolic than necessary on a day the Cyclones easily clinched their first outright regular-season conference championship ever — and first of any kind since 1912.

 That’s the same year the Titanic sunk and Fenway Park opened. So for Akers to finally receive football’s most prized personal reward on Senior Day, well, all the feels — precisely because it simply, but deeply symbolized what his ongoing sacrifice has meant to this team. 

What the seniors, writ large, have meant. 

What meeting this moment and elevating ISU to the biggest of Big 12 stages with a chance to achieve so much more continues to demonstrate.

 “I don’t know if it was designed just for Landen,” Campbell said of the Akers’ touchdown. “It was designed to score in a critical moment. I was really excited for Landen. He’s the epitome of what this program was about. He’s part of the unbelievable glue that holds this team together. For him to shine in one of his biggest moments and of his team’s best moments, I couldn’t be any happier for him.”

 Nor could his teammates. Kolar and fellow receiver Xavier Hutchinson reacted like kids on Christmas day after clearing out defenders for Akers to run his route and score.

 They were downright giddy on another historic day the Cyclones fully controlled from start to finish to match a program record five-game conference win streak.

 “I went to go jump on him and he fell on the concrete,” said Kolar, who became ISU’s top tight end pass catcher in program history with his 95th career grab. “But it was incredible. If you could see the way our sideline celebrated and the way everyone celebrated, that’s a testament to Landen and his character. You talk about a guy who sacrificed for, like his 15th year — he sacrificed for all of them. Special teams and doing dirty work and blocking and being behind guys. For him to finally get in the end zone was incredible. I’ve never been happier for a guy to score. He’s an incredible player, incredible teammate.”

 He’s also a portrait of perseverance, a purveyor of the process who scored a touchdown that proved to be symbolic but was anything but perfunctory.

 “He just comes in, does his work, shows his love for his teammates,” said Purdy, who completed 20 of 23 passes and touchdowns to Akers, Kolar and tailback Breece Hall. “He’s a great human being. He cares about everybody here and obviously, everybody cares about him.”

 That, of course, would have remained true even if “the Landen play” had been foiled. Instead, it unfolded in storybook fashion. Despite going in motion, the defense didn’t really account for him. He was wide open because he was overlooked, as always, by everyone outside of ISU’s walls.

 That’s symbolic in the best possible way. Symbolic of trust. Of commitment. Of never settling for anything less than one’s best effort — even when the results, nor numbers, don’t always seem to signify success.

 “To finally get to the game that we all dream of playing in is pretty sweet,” Purdy said. “It’s special, but just like coach and Charlie said, it isn’t finished. We don’t want to just get there. We want to win it. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s the mission that we’re on. And that is why the job’s not finished yet.”

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