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.”
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.
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
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)
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
Zaven Collins (Tulsa) 9.5
Mike Rose (Iowa State) 9.0
Carlton Martial (Troy) 9.0
NCAA Freshman Tackle Leaders (Power 5)
Micah Parsons, Penn State 82
Merlin Robertson, Ariz. St. 77
Mike Rose (Iowa State) 75