AMES — The faces of Iowa State football in recent years have largely been guys who enjoyed almost immediate success in their careers. Mike Rose, Breece Hall and Brock Purdy were absolute newbies. Charlie Kolar and Greg Eisworth were all-conference performers in their first few seasons in the field.
There are, however, less direct routes to getting shots in trainer Matt Campbell’s program.
Some players live years of anonymity and have the chance to rise through the ranks via special teams on both depths. For a whole series of Cyclones who have made possible these last five years of success, the road has been long and difficult.
And while the faces of the program will change in 2022, that less glamorous path to production and playtime remains wide open for the Cyclones.
From linebacker to tight end and in all position groups, the patient and the diligent stand a chance of being rewarded.
“There is no ego. I’ve never had anyone come up to me and ask me to get more playing time,” tight ends coach Taylor Mouser said. “They haven’t reached the transfer portal for the past two years. They sat here. They waited their turn. They took good notes.
“Tenacity, grit and their dedication to what we’re trying to do here is exactly what I want for the guys I coach. These guys will die for an inch to help us win any football game.
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It’s been a foundational success for the Cyclones, and the tradition remains strong in 2022 as players like tight end Jared Rus, defensive end Blake Peterson and linebacker Gerry Vaughn are set to inherit bigger roles.
“(Rus) didn’t get a single rep his first year here,” Mouser said. “Now he’s going to be captain of our football team. He’s going to get the most reps in the tight ends room.
“And he will die there for an inch. And everyone knows it. It feeds everyone.
The journey from a small role to a bigger one often goes through special teams. This allows players to grow and gain experience simultaneously.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that I come from (Class) 11B football in South Dakota,” Peterson said. “It was a big transition in high school playing tackles that weighed 160 pounds against guys twice as heavy in the Big 12.
“It was a big adjustment for me.”
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Vaughn spent two years playing mostly on special teams before seeing constant shots as a part-time starter last season. He is expected to return to full-time work this year.
“He’s in a position to be a leader right now,” linebackers coach Tyson Veidt said. “And he does a great job off the pitch, on the pitch and in the video room and all those things with the young guys, so he’s really transformed in a lot of ways.
“He has a lot of playing experience though. He may not have started in 30 or 40 games, right? He’s played in really all of them, not just special teams but as a that linebacker in multiple places. So I think…everything is falling into place for him right now.
For Vaughn, it’s been an interesting journey even when the playing time was inconsistent.
“Those were years of learning,” he said. “I learned a lot. I got a lot out of it. I wasn’t ready, but I definitely took a lot from those early years and have been applying it ever since.
“Initially, I was not a great filmmaker. I had to learn that. I always come into the room and (Rose and Jake Hummel) always watch movies, break stuff down. I took this from them.
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 284-8000. FFollow him at @TravisHines21.