MATT CAMPBELL: ISU’s “wholesale changing” approach to spring ball and Trevor Downing is “full go”

Jan 2, 2021; Glendale, AZ, USA; Iowa State’s head coach Matt Campbell jumps into the air celebrating with linebacker Mike Rose (23) after his interception during the second half of the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic.  © Patrick Breen/The Republic via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Matt Campbell tends to take the minimalist approach in order to maximize returns.

 Iowa State’s head football coach clearly advances a broad, long-term vision for his program, but chooses to constantly lock his focus on the immediate moment.

 Grand goals emerge from mastering small tasks — and last season’s spring quarantine helped him revamp his blueprint for success in 2021 and beyond.

 “We’re wholesale changing,” Campbell told reporters Tuesday during a conference call.

 How so?

 “The amount of time we put into contact and collision into practice in the spring, I think, will be very minimal,” said Campbell, who expects spring ball to begin on April 1.


 “Really putting our focus on the physical, bigger, faster, stronger growth process and the equal fundamental and technical growth process that we can make,” Campbell added. “More of that philosophy from a physical standpoint — a contact and collision standpoint towards fall camp. I think our players benefit from it, and I really feel like we as a program, where development is critical to our success, can develop with a better mindset and really a better calendar moving ourselves forward. It’s been really a good mental challenge for (me) and our strength staff and something that I’m really excited about and I think we can hopefully continue to move ourselves forward for how we need to win here at Iowa State.”

 Campbell spoke often last season about how the quarantine and various safety protocols put in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19 forced him to reevaluate everything about building and maintaining a program.

 Health and safety became paramount. Injury prevention was magnified. Results — in practice and on Saturdays — nonetheless improved, as is evidenced by the school-record matching nine wins and first-ever appearance (and win) in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

 Bottom line: Sometimes less is more in terms of full-contact reps, especially when significant gains are made in other key areas.

 “I really think we took a little bit of what we learned with some of the rules that we were given last summer in terms of return to play by the NCAA and the Big 12,” Campbell said. “And kind of the OTA (organized team activities) model that we learned — and really were forced to learn, a little bit on the run in June and July — and said, ‘Boy, how can we apply some of these values, maybe, to what we deem as spring practice, or whatever that spring model needs to look at. So I think there’s a lot that we can take from there. We studied it, reflected on it — and then I do think in a lot of ways you are starting from scratch in terms of what you learned, and obviously, last year was a unique year. And I think it’s also going to be another unique year going into this 2021 season.”

 Call it the new normal. You can grouse about it, or grow from it. We know which path Campbell always chooses from those two options.

 “It’s really how do you manage all the things that are going on and give your young people the best opportunity to be successful?” Campbell said. “I would say (we’re) certainly starting from scratch, but using some of the things that came our way a year ago as a litmus test for us to be able to say, ‘How do we move ourselves forward?’”

 That will continue to look different for the foreseeable future. The ability to evolve, in the moment, and in the long-term, has been ISU’s strength under Campbell, which is one of the reasons projections for the 2021 season appear brighter than ever.

 “The one thing I do know at this point in where we are is when it is time to go, our guys know that it’s time to go, and they go,” Campbell said. “It’s a contact/collision sport and there has to be a build-up to get to that point. But I think the ability to do it in a controlled, safe manner; giving our kids the best opportunity to play their best on Saturday, I think it needs to be measured and it needs to be valued to get to be our best.”


 Standout ISU offensive lineman Trevor Downing injured his ankle in the 2020 season-opening loss to Louisiana and never got back in the playing field. He’s ready to go now, though.

“Trevor’s full go,” Campbell said. “Trevor is full go right now in our winter program and so obviously that part’s exciting for all of us. I think he was teetering on (being) back to almost full strength kind of right around the (Fiesta Bowl) game. I think out of the safety for Trevor and just getting back to where we needed them, and in the awareness level — you know, obviously, we didn’t pull the trigger on putting him back on the field at that time. But it’s been great to have him have a full offseason and really back full go within our winter program.”


 Campbell said the program was able to award two former walk-ons with scholarships during the offseason: Holder/quarterback Blake Clark and short-snapper Connor Guess.

 “We’re really excited about that,” Campbell said about adding Clark and Guess to the scholarship rolls. “We were able to reward some of those guys and, again, our walk-on program is so critical to our success. … It’s really big and it’s certainly one of the things that’s a lifeblood for our program and we know that.”

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