Rookies Build Bond, Become Leaders

Homecoming, TTU, Texas Tech, FB, Football, 2018-19

Iowa State football has had a long list of freshmen with outstanding rookie seasons, and quarterback Brock Purdy and linebacker Mike Rose have emphatically joined that list through their performance on the field in 2018.

What Purdy and Rose did this season was different, however.

Not only did they both become offensive and defensive leaders on the team, they did it as TRUE freshmen.

The dynamic duo didn’t get the benefit of sitting out a season as redshirts to learn their trade. Both entered school in the summer and wasted little time in proving their worth.

“Their leadership, intangibles and work ethic was amazing, and when your best players are your hardest workers then your program has a chance to be really successful,” Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell said. “The foundation starts right there with their work ethic and their commitment to the process. I’m really proud of them and grateful to have those young guys leading the ship for a long time.”

It’s hard to recollect first-year players at Iowa State to make such dramatic impacts, especially a pair in the same season.

Purdy was 7-2 as the Cyclone quarterback, recording the best passing efficiency rating (169.91) by a true freshman in NCAA history while rallying the Cyclones as the signal-caller. He ended the season as the ESPN Big 12 True Freshman of the Year.

Rose started all 13 games, was third on the team in tackles (75) and was named to numerous freshman All-America teams, including First-Team Freshman All-America honors by the FWAA.

When comparing Purdy and Rose’s accomplishments, a few first-year freshmen Cyclones come to mind.

Two-time All-Big 12 selection Allen Lazard was a first-year rookie in 2014. He recorded a very productive season with 45 catches for 593 yards and three touchdowns.

Leonard Johnson was also excellent. In 2008, the future NFLer had 47 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries in his first season.

Possibly the best comparison to Purdy and Rose is Jason Berryman, who was named the 2003 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in his first season with the Cyclone program. Berryman was a freshman All-American and led all NCAA rookie defensive linemen with 110 stops that year.

A native of Brecksville, Ohio, Rose was probably the biggest surprise coming out of fall camp. Rose didn’t have many “power 5” offers, but he quickly made his presence known by earning the starting spot at Mike linebacker, replacing All-American Joel Lanning.

“He was kind of a dark horse and came out of nowhere in fall camp. He made the coaches play him,” Campbell said. “From day one, the 10 players around him on defense – they knew it. I credit guys like Ray Lima and Marcel Spears because they’ve been his guiding light – to make sure that he’s the best version of himself every weekend.”

The early success even surprised Rose.

“I told my parents, ‘I’m just going to work hard and get the respect of the older players and the coaches,’” Rose said about his goal heading into fall camp. “I knew of Jake Hummel and how he didn’t redshirt but contributed on special teams. Honestly, that was my goal. I think it was about a week into it and they were like ‘go in with the ones.’ I wasn’t that comfortable with the defense yet. I think they just wanted to see me play and see how I’d react to it. It was nerve-racking but if you would’ve told me a year ago that I’d be in this position, I don’t know if I’d have believed it.”

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Mike Rose celebrates after returning a fumble for a touchdown to help Iowa State overcome a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit vs. Kansas State. 

Rose definitely proved he belonged in his first career game at Iowa, leading the team in tackles with 11. By season’s end, Rose was one of the top rookie defenders nationally, ranking second in tackles for loss (9.0) among NCAA rookies and third nationally among “power 5” freshmen in tackles with 75.

“I feel like I’m a way better player, mostly just fighting off blocks,” Rose said. “A lot of that is just reps. From where I was at the beginning of the season to where I am now, I feel 100 percent more comfortable. The whole linebacker room really helped me out. I feel like at a lot of other schools that probably wouldn’t be the case because it’s competition. It was just awesome.”

Purdy, a native of Gilbert, Ariz., is one of the biggest competitors you will ever meet. A coveted February signee who had offers from Alabama and Texas A&M, even Purdy would tell you he didn’t foresee the season going the way it did.

Where Rose was picked as the starter on opening day, Purdy was third-string.

“From fall camp on, I just wanted to be ready at any point in the season,” Purdy said. “My mentality every single week was as if I was the starter, even though I wasn’t. When my opportunity came, I wanted to make the most of it.”

Indeed he did.

Purdy got his chance at Oklahoma State. The Cyclones were 1-3 at the time and facing the 25th-ranked Cowboys in a pivotal road game.

The rest will live in Cyclone history, as Purdy led the Cyclones to a 48-42 victory with 402 yards of total offense – 318 passing, 84 rushing – with five touchdowns.

“I wasn’t over-thinking anything. I was just acting like it was another high school football game,” Purdy said about his breakout game. “I went out there and I kept it simple and trusted my teammates around me. They helped me out with everything. I’m blessed that it went the way it did.”

Purdy continued to steer the ship. Soon after, the Cyclones rattled off a five-game Big 12 winning streak and ended the season with a school-record six conference triumphs.

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Brock Purdy threw for an Iowa State-bowl-record 315 yards vs. Washington State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. 

Purdy’s poise, leadership and toughness stood out as he matured throughout the season, breaking the all-time NCAA record for best passing efficiency total for a true freshman. Only four freshmen in NCAA history had a better passing efficiency rating than Purdy (Jameis Winston, Sam Bradford, Rudy Carpenter and Michael Vick). All four, however, sat out their first season in college as a redshirt.

“Sometimes with a young player that was having success in practice and continuing to improve every day, there can be a sense of frustration or even a step back,” Campbell said. “But with Brock, there never was. In fact, he turned it up another notch in the detail of his preparation. I think that is what is really special about Brock. It was his commitment to himself and to his craft that made him ready for success. What he’s done has been nothing short of incredible for a freshman.”

Purdy ended the season tying or sharing school records in completion percentage (66.4%), passing efficiency (169.91) and 300-yard passing games (3).

Despite playing virtually nine games, Purdy threw for 2,250 yards (ninth in school history) and 16 touchdown passes (fifth in school history), and rushed for 308 yards and five touchdowns.

The success the rookies achieved this year brought them together. Going through the same circumstances, the two have built a strong bond.

It is comforting for Cyclone fans to know the pair have become close friends, and it sparked in fall camp when Campbell roomed them together.

“They’re really good friends and really close,” Campbell said. “They carry themselves with a sense of maturity I haven’t seen, and I think that’s a credit to their families, their high school football programs and the communities that they come from.”

Purdy knew there was a connection right away.

“The first day we got here we ran together. We clicked right away,” Purdy said. “At fall camp we roomed together and we didn’t know any of this was going to happen, honestly. He holds me accountable for things. I hold him accountable for things. He runs the defense. I run the offense. We got a good thing going.”

Purdy admits he is more reserved and Rose is the outgoing one, “He’s funny. Everybody loves him. Whenever he walks into the room, he’s always smiling. Everybody on the team loves him and he brings an upbeat feeling to everything that we do.”

Rose, however, has to play second fiddle to the star quarterback.

“He’s obviously on a big stage now. Everybody is like, ‘Brock, Brock!’” Rose laughs. “But he keeps it level-headed. He’s done a great job just keeping a lower profile and being the same guy every day.”

Campbell added, “They are certainly good for each other and the fact that they play such demanding positions, yet on different sides of the football, it allows those two to have some commonalities within themselves that really attach them at the hip together.”

We can’t wait for the encore in 2019.

NCAA Leaders In Passing Efficiency
Player                                         Total
Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)      199.4
Kyler Murray (Oklahoma)       199.2
Will Grier (West Virginia)        175.5
Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State)  174.1
Jake Fromm (Georgia)               171.2
Brock Purdy (Iowa State)     169.9

Most Iowa State QB Wins Over Conference Opponents (Since 1985)
Player                                     Record
Bret Meyer, 2004-07              11-20 (35.5%)
Seneca Wallace, 2001-02      8-8 (50%)
Bret Oberg, 1988-89              7-7 (50%)
Brock Purdy, 2018               6-1 (85.7%)
Alex Espinoza, 1984-86        6-8 (42.8%)
Sage Rosenfels, 1997-2000   6-10 (37.5%)

NCAA Freshman TFL Leaders
Player                                     Total
Zaven Collins (Tulsa)             9.5
Mike Rose (Iowa State)      9.0
Carlton Martial (Troy)           9.0

NCAA Freshman Tackle Leaders (Power 5)
Player                                     Total
Micah Parsons, Penn State    82
Merlin Robertson, Ariz. St.    77
Mike Rose (Iowa State)       75

 

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Harvey, Peavy Trusted The Process

 

Harvey_Peavy_webAMES, Iowa – Senior defensive stalwarts Brian Peavy (CB) and Willie Harvey (LB) will fasten their chinstraps for one of the final times this weekend at MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium, as 19 Cyclone seniors will be honored for their commitment to the program.

It’s been a long journey for the duo who have been staples in the Iowa State lineup since their freshman seasons in 2015.

With a combined 541 tackles and 83 starts, the Cyclone defense has made an incredible resurgence under their leadership. Their final two seasons have seen the ISU defense ascend to the top of the Big 12 defensive statistical rankings, and both have been key cogs to its success.

Both Peavy and Harvey joined the Cyclone team in 2014 and sat out as redshirts under Paul Rhoads’ staff. Cyclone fans saw a glimpse of the future with both making outstanding contributions as rookies in 2015.

Peavy was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection while leading the team in tackles (82) and Harvey registered 59 tackles.

Riding a wave of success, uncertainty soon followed.

Rhoads was relieved of his duties and the pair would have to start over with an entire new coaching staff and philosophy.

It was a difficult time for both.

“I was really close with Coach Rhoads,” Peavy said. “It was like losing a part of your family with the coaches you trusted leaving, so of course it was difficult, but I don’t think it held me down any or any of the other guys.”

“It was tough at first,” Harvey said about losing the coaching staff that brought him to Ames. “I built relationships with a lot of the coaches. You don’t know where to go as a player, who to look to, and you don’t know where to go and what to expect. That’s a lot of what I dealt with.”

Peavy_Brian18KU_12

Brian Peavy will end his career as a four-time All-Big 12 recipient and is one of the greatest cornerbacks in Iowa State history.

The hiring of Matt Campbell helped calm the waters. The tandem listened to what Campbell was preaching.

Trust the Process.

“To be honest with you, what he was preaching, I honestly didn’t know what it meant,” Peavy joked. “You know, it was kind of just some fancy words to me at the time. What does ‘trust the process’ mean? What does ‘the process’ look like? It took a year until we understood what he meant.”

The results didn’t come overnight, but with the work ethic and leadership of Peavy and Harvey, strides were made every day.

Campbell knew he could trust both in critical situations.

“We leaned on Brian and Willie a lot in that first year,” Campbell said. “They were young veterans and it was crucial for them to buy in. You look back now, we owe a lot to those guys, because they have been two of our most consistent players in the last three years. You talk about the growth of our defense, they are two of the biggest reasons for our success.”

The 2016 season started slow for Iowa State, but the team made vast improvement throughout the season, winning two of its last three games.

This time, Harvey led the team in tackles (78) and Peavy was an honorable mention all-league pick for the second consecutive year.

Heading into fall camp of 2017, Harvey knew something was different with the team. The culture was changing.

“It was definitely noticeable and refreshing,” Harvey remembered. “It is kind of like a 180. You definitely notice something different.”

Homecoming, TTU, Texas Tech, FB, Football, 2018-19

Willie Harvey has 26.5 TFL in his career to rank in ISU’s career top-10.

The team started out 2-2, but then proceeded to shock the college football nation by going 4-0 in October with a pair of victories over top-5 opponents (Oklahoma, TCU).

Iowa State was now a player nationally by appearing in its first College Football Playoff rankings in school history, and both were making significant contributions, especially in ISU’s 14-7 win over No. 5 TCU at home.

The pair forced key fourth quarter turnovers to stop apparent Horned Frog scores, Peavy by interception and Harvey by forced fumble.

When the game ended, the entire Cyclone Nation celebrated on the field.

It is a memory both will never forget.

“I would say it was one of my biggest memories just seeing the excitement of others,” Harvey said. “To celebrate with my teammates and fans, it was really special.”

“That was big time and kind of like a dream come true,” Peavy said. “I always kind of dreamed of college fans rushing the field. Honestly, we have had big games here at Iowa State, but we just were never able to pull out a win. To see that happen, and to see the process actually arrive, it was big for me, the team and fans. That game definitely left a stamp in history for this school.”

The season ended with a victory over No. 19 Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, just the fourth bowl win in school history.

Their legacy is continuing to shine throughout the 2018 campaign.

Victories over top-25 teams are now the norm, racking up two more triumphs against No. 25 Oklahoma State and No. 6 West Virginia, increasing ISU’s two-year win total vs. ranked teams to five.

The 2018 Cyclones were ranked again, thanks to the school’s first-ever five game single-season conference winning streak. Another victory this weekend, and Iowa State will set a new standard for conference wins in a season with six.

The culture has changed and you can see their imprints all over. It’s something they are both extremely proud of.

Harvey will end his career ranking in the top-10 on ISU’s career TFL list. He currently has 26.5.

Peavy remains one of the top cornerbacks in the nation. Teams rarely throw to his side because of his reputation. His career 43 pass breakups is second among active FBS players.

Will emotions be running high for Peavy and Harvey on Saturday? You bet they will. Fall Saturdays in Ames have become a happening thanks to their contributions.

Knowing that the final grains of sand in their hour glass are trickling down, it will be another key opportunity to pay respect to the greatest college football fans in the nation.

“I don’t know, hopefully I can hold it all together,” Harvey admitted. “It will be an emotional day but I’m going to try to hold it all together and just cherish the moment.”

The Cyclones are 14-9 in the last two seasons and heading to another bowl game, but they will look back fondly on much more than the wins when their careers are over.

“I know a lot of guys will say their best moments are off the field, and I would agree,” Peavy said. “My trip to Costa Rica (Soles for Souls) and some of the community service endeavors I did are just as memorable. I will also remember all the hard work my teammates have put in. I will think about a guy like Braxton Lewis through his journey of being a walk on and now a Big 12 candidate. A guy like Marcel Spears, too. I think that will be my favorite memories is just looking around and seeing guys follow their dreams and making them come true.”

Harvey will have similar memories.

“Facing all the adversities and sticking through it, I will always remember that,” Harvey said. “You get tired and you really think your body can’t handle it. But I’m just glad I stuck it out and I’m doing something for the greater good of the organization.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Burkhall Bouncing Back After Summer Health Scare

What was supposed to be a quiet few days off for senior forward Meredith Burkhall took a scary and life-altering turn. While No. 32 is on pace to be back on the court come November, the past two months have brought many physical challenges that have changed her life and perspective heading into the 2018-19 season.

Burkhall had just wrapped up the spring semester and returned to her Urbandale, Iowa home for a much-deserved break for the month of May. Just two days into the break she awoke to find herself unable to walk.

After her mother, Stephanie, rushed home, they went to a chiropractor believing she needed to be readjusted and that it was a back issue. It was clear rather quickly that wasn’t the issue so her mother drove her straight to the emergency room.

“I could barely stand up, my leg felt like it was falling asleep randomly,” Burkhall said of her leg when she arrived at the hospital.

Burkhall would go through hours of tests, and with doctors unable to find anything she was nearly sent home. The Burkhall’s decided it was best to stay at the hospital to continue to look into what was causing her immobility.  Finally, a late-night ultrasound at her parents’ request revealed the issue.

“I got back to the room after the ultrasound and I could barely get back in the bed. There were three people in white coats running into my room saying that I had this massive blood clot and that they needed to treat it immediately because it was heading north towards my lungs and heart,” Burkhall recalled.

She was immediately admitted into the hospital and a surgery was booked for the next morning.

To remove the blood clots, Burkhall was put through an excruciating four-day process where two catheters were inserted into her leg and medicine was injected into her to remove the clots, which took up 80 percent of the veins in her leg and stomach. The process also required a filter to be placed to prevent a clot from traveling to her heart and lungs. The worst part was that she was unable to move for four-straight days, with doctors and nurses entering the room every 10 minutes.

“You can’t move, you have to lay flat, you can’t sit up, you can’t move your arms, move your leg,” Burkhall said. “Everything was just flat. You’re in the Intensive Care Unit and you just can’t get up.”

The doctors had never done this process on someone as young as Burkhall, and she required constant supervision. After six days in the ICU she was moved to a regular room and allowed to walk.  However, complications arose when she began to walk as her heart rate shot into the 170s after taking just a few steps, which is typical of someone on a run. The spike prompted doctors to have to run an electrocardiogram to see what was happening. Fortunately they didn’t find anything, but it meant she would not be able to go home until her heart rate was improved.

Doctors were never quite able to pinpoint the cause of everything, but due to the severity, Burkhall was put on blood thinners for three months. Doctors let her know that had this happened 10 years ago, the consequences could have been more life-altering, with her no longer being allowed to play basketball. However, due to modern technology, Burkhall was given a chance at a full recovery.

In total, she would spend 12 days in the hospital before returning to her parents’ home.

However, she wasn’t out of the woods yet, as she would now have to begin a long recovery process. Upon returning from the hospital she was still unable to move around and was even relegated to a walker for two and a half weeks and crutches for several days after. Her quick turnaround impressed the doctors, who were unsure what to give her for a timetable as most people with this condition never are able to get back to 100 percent. However, given her age and fitness level, and her swift improvement it seemed it would be possible.

Burkhall credits an amazing support system for helping keep her spirits up. Constant texts, snaps and visits from her teammates, coaches and support staff helped her get through the long hospital stay and continual recovery process. Her parents also never left her side, with both spending nearly every night at the hospital. She also had a dedicated team of nurses who spent many hours with her and her family. They became invested in her recovery, and even promised to come to a game this season to see her in action.

As for the future, Burkhall is not yet cleared for contact, but she is able to practice and participate in most workouts. She is optimistic she will be one of the first to make a 100 percent recovery. She has also been cleared to travel with the team for the upcoming trip to Costa Rica, but will not be able to compete in the games. She will also need to wear compression leggings on all flights and during workouts to help with blood flow.

The experience was life changing for Burkhall, who says it gave her a different perspective on life.

“Sometimes when I was laying there I’d be like, ‘this isn’t even about getting back for the season. This is about being healthy in my life,’” she said. “You never know what can just change in a day. Literally in 48 hours I went from having a tight back to emergency surgery. You never know what can happen in the blink of an eye. Do what you want to do every day because you never know what can come in your way or stop you because I did not expect that.”

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Hard Work Earns Benton A Scholarship

Defense_Benton_Trent_Harvey17Iowa

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State football begins its fall camp in less than three weeks, and senior defensive end Spencer Benton will feel different as he enters his final preseason preparation by accomplishing two major goals in the last three months.

First, Benton earned his degree in accounting and finance in May. He achieved his second goal when Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell told him last week he has been officially placed on scholarship for his final season.

There were no video cameras around to commemorate the event. The news Benton had been waiting to hear came in a private team meeting after another grueling summer workout.

For the humble and unassuming Benton, that is the way he wanted it.

“I just kind of felt a lot of relief more than excitement,” Benton said. “It’s been a long time coming, but I hadn’t even really thought about it too much. My teammates were very supportive and I appreciate Coach Campbell believing in me. I took my parents out to dinner to celebrate, which was a pretty cool moment.”

Campbell never wavered on his decision.

“Spencer has sacrificed so much to help us lay a foundation of success,” Campbell said. “In the last two years, Spencer has stood for everything that we want in our program — on the field and off the field. He’s earned this. I’m just really excited that we had the opportunity to grant him the finality of putting him on scholarship for good. I couldn’t be prouder of him and am really proud to coach him.”

Benton became the “next guy to be put on scholarship” frontrunner with his valuable service as a reserve the last two seasons. He showed incredible promise in 2016 when he recorded 21 tackles, 2.0 TFL and 1.5 sacks. Most of Benton’s production came late in the year, posting 19 of his 21 tackles in the final seven games.

After earning ISU’s Outstanding Walk-On Award (2016), he had 11 tackles and 1.5 TFL to help the Cyclones win their fourth bowl game in school history in 2017.

As an All-American defensive end at Mount Union, Campbell is an expert on the position. He immediately was impressed with Benton when he initially got the job.

“People don’t know the value that he’s added to our defense,” Campbell said. “We talk about playing in big moments. You go back to the Oklahoma game and the snaps he played in there. He showed up when we needed him the most, so I’m really proud of him. He’s been a key factor of why we’ve been able to lay a great foundation here.”

Benton,Spencer_UNI_2017_1

Benton won Iowa State’s Outstanding Walk-On Player Award in 2016. 

Benton played on 26 snaps from scrimmage on that memorable Saturday in October when Iowa State knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman. He will never forget that game or the final defensive snap.

“I just remember how physical that game was,” Benton said. “It was a fight until the end. Until the very end. I tried to give it my all until the last pass was incomplete. I just remember turning and seeing the ball drop. When the ball hit the ground, it was the best feeling. I looked around — no flags – the game is over.”

Growing up in Van Meter, Iowa, Benton was a three-sport star, excelling in football, baseball and wrestling. Football was his favorite, however, where he was a first-team all-state selection and a participant in the Iowa Shrine Bowl.

Benton had offers to play college football, mainly from NAIA schools. The lure of playing big-time college football was too strong, so he decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps (Marcus) and tryout for the Iowa State football team with no guarantees.

“Early on, I just had NAIA and a couple of D-IIIs talking to me. I didn’t even have a highlight tape or anything,” Benton laughed. “My brother was a walk-on at Iowa State before me, and he kind of convinced me to try-out for the team. I showed up, tried out and luckily I made the team.”

Benton entered college at 6-2 and 225 pounds in 2014, spending his first two seasons watching from the sidelines.

After adding 20 pounds of muscle to his frame, he found his way into the rotation in Campbell’s inaugural season in 2016.

Taking snaps as a reserve, Benton was quickly proving his worth, but the game he remembers most during Campbell’s first year was the victory over Kansas. It was a game where Benton’s performance had a direct outcome in the contest. Recording three tackles, including two solo stops, Benton was all over the field.

Late in the second quarter, Kansas was driving deep into ISU territory with a 14-10 lead. With a 3rd-and-10 at the ISU 23, Benton broke free and sacked Jayhawk QB Carter Stanley for a six-yard loss. Moving the ball back, KU was forced to attempt a longer field goal than anticipated, a 46-yarder that missed wide right.

It was Benton’s first taste of success.

“That was a great moment for me,” Benton recollected. “I actually got two tackles for loss in that game. Basically I was the QB spy on the play and my teammates did all the work and I just had to make the play. Fortunately I did.”

A strong work ethic has always been a part of Benton’s makeup. His father, Mike, is an auto mechanic, and often Benton is in the shop helping Mike fix cars.

His hard work has carried over into the classroom, where Benton is one of the football team’s most decorated student-athletes. The two-time First-Team Academic All-Big 12 selection graduated with a 3.8 cumulative GPA and was the recipient of the Dr. Gerald Lage Award, the highest academic honor handed out by the Big 12 Conference. He is also ISU’s representative for the National Football Foundation’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award.

“I was very motivated from the beginning,” Benton said about his work in the classroom. “When I first got here, they told me, ‘You can structure your plan over four and a half years.’ I was like ‘No, I’m not doing that.’ Academics has always been important to me.”

2018 Football Spring Grads

Benton (second from left) earned his degree in accounting and finance in 2018. 

The summer is winding down and Benton, who is now 256 pounds, is thrilled to begin the 2018 season as a scholarship athlete in graduate school.

Benton’s approach to the upcoming season won’t change though. He is a member of one of ISU’s deepest and most talented defensive fronts in recent memory and he can feel the excitement in the defensive line room.

“It has been a great thing to be able to go from last year, where we weren’t perceived as being a great unit, to this year,” Benton noted. “We have grown together so much as friends and that’s really translated over to the field. Everyone understands each other and everyone works well together. Coach Rasheed has really done a great job of bringing together that defensive line.”

 

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Shayok Ready To Lead

Marial Shayok has been there. He’s done that.

He’s played in NCAA Tournaments. He’s been on ACC Championship teams at Virginia.

But Shayok never really had to be a leader on those teams. He was second in scoring in his final season with the Cavaliers, but they had upperclassmen that took care of leading.

So what realization did Shayok come to during his redshirt season at Iowa State?

He noted that in addition to shooting jumpers and putting in the work, he also needed to become a leader for the Cyclones.

“I see now how important it is for me to be vocal, to be a leader,” Shayok said. “We’ve got so many new guys and I know that I need to share my experiences. It’s time for me to share the things I’ve learned over the years and give it back to the other guys.”

It’s something that head coach Steve Prohm has challenged Shayok to do.

“He’s put it on me to be a leader on this team, to be as vocal as I can,” Shayok adds. “I need to be a second voice for him so he doesn’t have to say everything. A lot of times now, I say it before he even can. I want to be another coach on the floor for us.”

If there is a consistent message among the people inside the Sukup Basketball Complex, it is how much work Shayok puts into his craft. The Ottawa, Ontario native spent the redshirt season closely alongside fellow sit-out transfer Michael Jacobson, who came to the Cyclones from Nebraska.

“Mike and I spent a lot of time together last year,” Shayok said. “When the team went on the road, it was just us spending a lot of time in the gym. We were working out, playing one-on-one and getting our shots up.”

He’s seen his game improve, both from a physical and mental standpoint.

“I think I’ve improved the consistency with my shot,” Shayok said. “I’m shooting at a really high level right now and my range has expanded. I’ve also improved my decision making. I think that developed from putting in the time and playing the point guard on the scout team. That really improved my feel for the game. I’m just really confident right now in my game.”

And he’s confident in the team he is seeing come together on a daily basis.

“We’ve got a really good chemistry on this team,” Shayok says while lacing up Nikes for another workout. “We hang out pretty much all day, every day. It’s genuine and I think it really is a starting point for what we want to accomplish.

“Now we are going to need to take that chemistry, that energy, and play together as a team. We want to play fast, play hard and be competitive every day. We’ve really got to believe in each other to get where we want to be.” “

Where they want to be is back in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.

“We understand the importance of winning,” Shayok says. “And know that if we win, we can all do great things.”

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Gomez Used Setbacks In 2017-18 To Find Success

Gomez, Austin_JWTT15AMES, Iowa – As Austin Gomez steps onto campus for his second year at Iowa State, many things are different this time around. The Carol Stream, Ill., native earned a spot on the Junior World Team at 61 kg at the beginning of June. Gomez also is in line to hold down the 133-pound spot in the Cyclone lineup this season.

However, it may be the experience and knowledge he gained during his first year that is driving his preparation ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.

“Last year, I came in as a newbie and kind of got my butt whooped a little bit,” Gomez said. “I have a lot more experience this year. I know what to expect. I feel like I’m training harder and smarter. The factor of knowing that I could be the guy this year is playing a big part in training right now.”

Gomez also senses a change in the team’s psyche.

“We’ve got that winning feeling,” Gomez said of his teammates. “We know what it takes to win. If we can replicate what we put out in the practice room out on the mat, we’re going to be a pretty tough team.”

Looking Back
When Gomez arrived at Iowa State last summer, he was fresh off of a defeat at the Junior World Team Trials Qualifier. He fell to Minnesota’s Mitch McKee 2-1 in a best-of-three series for the spot at 57 kg.

“There’s some things that need to be fixed,” Gomez said of his thoughts directly following that match. “There’s some technique and some areas that I need to get better at. That’s what coach Zadick really talked to me about right after that match. He said we’re going to fix some things and get it done.”

Gomez credits his high motor and pace for his success in wrestling. After the loss in Lincoln, he was ready to get back on the mat and compete, however, it would be longer than the three-time Illinois state champ would have hoped for.

The plan was to redshirt Gomez during the 2017-18 season, which would allow him to still compete unattached. Early on in the year, Gomez suffered a concussion that would put him out for three months, effectively sidelining him for most of his freshman campaign.

Gomez didn’t let the injury become a set back and continued to grow, even if it wasn’t on the mat.

“It put things into perspective for me if I didn’t have wrestling,” Gomez said of his injury. “I could get injured and my career could be over. I did a lot of reading. I saw it as a blessing that God may have given me that I could come back stronger from this. I think I did. I think the best version of Austin Gomez came out after that.”

As the Cyclones sent a troop of wrestlers to the Willie Myers Open, Gomez was amongst them, finally cleared to compete. In his first match back, Gomez released six months of pent up preparation, and tech-falled Tristan Jenny of UW-La Crosse 20-5 en route to the open title at 133 pounds.

“I was so ready to compete,” Gomez said. “I was itching. I hadn’t wrestled live since I lost that match to Mitchell McKee. So yeah, I was itching pretty bad.”

Gomez closed out his first year with two more open titles at the Duhawk Open and Sioux City Dave Edmonds Open. He compiled an 8-0 record and won five of his matches by technical fall. A small sample size, but solid results.

“It was fun to wrestle and represent Iowa State University,” Gomez said. “I came here to represent Iowa State and put Iowa State back on top. That’s the main reason I came here. It was a lot of fun to put Iowa State under my name.”

Looking Ahead
As a member of the Junior World Team, Gomez will get to continue to rep the Cardinal and Gold on the sport’s biggest stage. Gomez qualified for the Junior World Team in June in Rochester, Minn. He defeated Cornell’s Arujau Vitali 11-8 and then 15-4 to lock down the spot at 61 kg.

Along with getting to represent Team USA in Slovakia in September at the Junior World Championships, Gomez now gets the opportunity to train with the best in the country leading up to the 2018-19 season.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to make this team,” Gomez said. “I made a cadet team in 2013, and I was either second or third every year after that. It was a big monkey off my back that I made the team. I’m not just going there to wrestle at the World Championships, I want to bring home a gold medal for Iowa State University, my family and God.”

“Our training camps are designed so we can wrestle with the senior level guys too. The US is the best country in wrestling right now. With our developmental program, we’re going to have a lot of real good guys that we’re going to get to train with. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

All of this before Gomez ever takes the mat for his first official match as an Iowa State Cyclone.

Although he’s tuned into bringing a gold medal back to Ames, the prospect of the 2018-19 season still crosses Gomez’s mind. The Big 12 alone returns three All Americans at 133 pounds, including national champion Seth Gross. Gomez delights at this challenge.

“That’s what it’s about,” Gomez said. “To be the best guy in the country, you have to beat the best guys in the country. Seth Gross is the top guy at 133 right now, but I don’t think he’s wrestled anybody of my caliber. I’m going to bring it this year, and these guys better be ready.”

Whether it’s been overcoming a tough loss, an injury or dominating the guy in front of him on the mat, Gomez has approached it with a clear mind and a plan of attack. As we roll into the 2018-19 season, it would appear that Gomez has that same laser focus that has served him well thus far.

“I think it’s going to be more of the same,” Gomez said of his preparation. “I get in the room, I shut my mouth and I go out there and learn. What I put out in the wrestling room is going to show in a match, and I think I work pretty hard in the wrestling room.”

Posted in Iowa State Athletics, Wrestling | Leave a comment

Holden Completes Master’s Degree; Three Others Also Graduate

Four Iowa State men’s basketball players – Merrill Holden, Donovan Jackson, Marial Shayok and Nick Weiler-Babb – will add another line to their resumes this spring and summer. Jackson and Shayok officially graduate this weekend, while Weiler-Babb and Holden take part in commencement ceremonies now and earn their degrees this summer. Along with these four student-athletes, former Cyclone Martin Rancik (1998-2001) also earned his degree from ISU in December.

Holden’s path to a master’s degree was a little different.

It was a balancing act.

A fine line between when to shut down the computer and go to sleep and when to push on so that he could someday again be on the big stage at Hilton Coliseum, this time earning his master’s degree rather than playing for the Cyclones.

Holden, who followed his Cyclone career with five months playing in Bahrain, a nation comprising  of more than 30 islands in the Arabian Gulf, would spend his nights working on his online courses and his days playing the game he loves.

He needed to get sleep so he could help his team, but he had a goal and with the encouragement of others back in Ames he was going to reach his goal.

“The deal was when I came here the master’s degree was part of it and I usually finish things that I start,” said Holden. “It was huge having that support system. (Academic coordinator) Natalie (Williams), the coaching staff and some of my friends and family just kept encouraging me to keep going.

“There were times where I just kind of wanted to give it up. Getting a master’s degree is tough; it’s a lot of work. There were nights that I didn’t get any sleep working on projects and then had to go perform on the court for my job the next day. Having Natalie and others by my side motivated me and pushed me.”

The long hours of work and the support of everyone culminated Thursday evening as he crossed the stage during the Spring 2018 Graduate Commencement Ceremony.

Holden will still have to complete his oral dissertation to defend his capstone in July, but the bulk of his work is completed and he celebrated the achievement in advance along with other graduate students because there is no summer commencement.

Holden played for the Cyclones during the 2016-17 season after earning his undergraduate degree from Louisiana Tech. His master’s degree is in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on community development.

For his program, Holden’s final paper examined at the city of Flint, Michigan, and its recent struggles.

“My paper focuses on the ongoing water crisis,” Holden said. “I touch on environmental racism and healthier policies for the Flint community. Much of it comes down to electing better officials with better human capital. Really, it is a deep dive into helping to get Flint going in the right direction.”

So now, Holden is the first person in his family to get a master’s degree. It’s something he never dreamed of growing up, or even a few years ago.

“Never would have thought that I could get a master’s degree,” Holden said while shaking his head. “Where I come from, born in Chicago, Illinois, in a very rough neighborhood. Never. I moved around a lot as a kid. There were times where my family couldn’t support me so I stayed with my grandma. I moved to another city to stay with an uncle.

“Basketball really blessed me with an opportunity to get a master’s degree. It means more than I can even put into words.”

Big 12 Champion. Iowa State University graduate.

Loyal sons forever true!

Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Merrill Holden and Donovan Jackson take part in the graduate luncheon.

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