AMES, Iowa – Iowa State Director of Football Operations Greg “Skip” Brabenec was watching a Nebraska football game last season and he noticed something different adorned on the Husker helmets.
Each player had three numerical digits on their helmets. Brabenec quickly figured out what the numbers stood for their local area code and he thought it was a brilliant idea.
Players represent a team, but they also have pride where they come from.
Brabenec met with Head Coach Matt Campbell and the decision was made to implement this same concept for the Cyclones, but they wanted to do it in a different approach.
The two brainstormed, tossed around a couple of ideas, and finally came up with the perfect solution.
What about having a state flag sticker on the back of each player’s helmet during the 2019 season?
Brabenec couldn’t wait to tell the team.
“They were all excited,” Brabenec said. “We are a family here at Iowa State, but our kids are also close to their families back home. We just thought it was a great way for the players to show off where they grew up.”
Campbell has always emphasized this is a player-driven program. It’s another way to prove it.
“I think this offseason as a team and staff we took a dive into, ‘who are we outside of football?’” Campbell said. “One of those things that came up during those discussions is young people sharing their story. We wanted to find ways for our guys to represent and take great pride on where they come from. It’s going to be fun to see those stickers on gameday.”
The Cyclone roster is filled with players from 18 different states. When you watch an Iowa State game this season, you will see flags from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.
Senior All-Big 12 linebacker Marcel Spears is from Olathe, Kan. He’s proud of his roots and loved the idea.
“We are Iowa State. We are a team,” Spears said. “However, being able to put your home state on the helmet and have your people back home understand that you are repping the state well means a lot.”
Besides state flags, Cyclone fans will also notice flags from six other nations on the back of the helmets.
Matt Leo and Corey Dunn are from Australia, but Campbell allowed players to choose flags from nations where their ancestors were originally from.
For example, Arnold Azunna, Kene Nwangwu and Enyi Uwazurike have the Nigerian flag on their helmets. You will see a Liberian flag on the helmets for Eddie Ogamba and Answer Gaye. Joe Rivera’s family heritage is linked to Puerto Rico and Kym-Mani King is from Jamaica. Senior All-Big 12 defensive lineman Ray Lima will represent Somoa.
Nwangwu, who was raised in Texas, wanted to honor his family’s Nigerian heritage. It was an easy decision for the junior running back/kickoff returner to make.
“I think it is really cool to get the opportunity to express our heritage,” Nwangwu said. “I take great pride in having a Nigerian heritage. My parents came from there and I take a lot of pride in that.”