Senior offensive lineman Julian Good-Jones had his life change dramatically on Nov. 22, 2015.
Good-Jones, a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was wrapping up his redshirt season at Iowa State when news spread there was going to be a coaching change.
Many thoughts were going through his mind. Was it in his best interest to look for another school? Or should he stick it out and give the next coach a chance?
Cyclone fans are happy he chose the latter, because Good-Jones has worked his way into an All-Big 12 lineman and four-year starter.
Good-Jones has witnessed first-hand the turnaround of Cyclone football, and this weekend he will be among 20 seniors playing in their final game in MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium.
“I’m a pretty emotional guy, not a lot of people know that about me,” Good-Jones said about playing in his last home game. “I’m a crier and I choke up a lot, so hopefully I don’t do that. Hopefully it doesn’t get in the way of the game, but it’ll be emotional for sure.”
Good-Jones gave head coach Matt Campbell a chance and he developed into a stable force on the Cyclone offensive front the past four seasons. Good-Jones has played three different positions – right tackle, center, left tackle – in his career and his versatility hasn’t gone unnoticed by Campbell.
“What I’ve always seen about Julian is this amazing spirit who’s got this unique ability to get along with everybody in our program,” Campbell said. “He’s got a big heart and has always done what is best for the team. It’s never been what is best for him. He’s playing left tackle for us and he’s probably a natural center or left guard, but he has played incredible football for this team this year. He’s physically playing his best.”
The two-time All-Big 12 honoree has one of the longest active starting streaks among FBS players at 47 (12th nationally), and with starts in the last two games, he will set the school record for most starts in a career with 49.
Good-Jones never believed this would have been possible when he entered school in the fall of 2015.
“Everyone has goals, but if you would have told me this would happen when I first started, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Good-Jones said. “This [Iowa State] is the place where I learned to be a man, grow up and just have experiences, friendships and lessons that will last a lifetime.”
The efforts of Good-Jones and three other senior offensive line starters – Bryce Meeker, Josh Knipfel and Collin Olson – have facilitated the resurgence of the Cyclone offense in 2019. The Cyclones rank in the top-25 nationally in yards per play (12th, 6.8), passing offense (8th, 326.3), total offense (14th, 477.9) and scoring (24th, 35.1).
All of those numbers are on pace to set Iowa State team records, and you can thank the men in the trenches for doing the dirty work.
Meeker, who also hails from Cedar Rapids, can also relate to Good-Jones’ journey. He’s also in his fifth year as a Cyclone and been a starter for four seasons.
Meeker has elevated his game in his time in Ames. Campbell has routinely noted the importance of Meeker and Good-Jones as four-year starters.
“I think that the two stories that don’t get talked about enough is what Bryce and Julian have really done for this team,” Campbell said. “They’re two kids that went through a coaching change, two kids that have grown immensely from who they are as human beings on the field and off the field to who they are today. They’re playing their best in every way, shape and form today because they are getting ready to, in the next month, leave our football program.”
Meeker noticed a difference when Campbell took over in 2016.
“Everybody takes a different outlook on everything,” Meeker said. “Coach Campbell has brought a certain amount of confidence and instilled it into a lot of people. That is how we carry ourselves every day. That was the biggest change. Everybody has confidence day-in and day-out.”
Besides an increase of confidence, Good-Jones also noticed something else changed after his first season. Players all of a sudden didn’t want to leave the Bergstrom Football Complex when practice ended.
“I would say that the culture has been a complete overhaul and the biggest difference is that when I first got here people couldn’t wait to leave as soon as we were done with practice,” Good-Jones said. “Now, everybody wants to stay after practice to hang out, watch film and just get a little extra work in.”
Knipfel was added to the mix in 2017 after spending a year at Iowa Western Community College. It didn’t take the Hampton, Iowa native long to find a spot in the lineup.
The guard has started 36 consecutive games, was named honorable mention All-Big 12 in 2018 and voted a co-captain for his final season as a Cyclone.
Playing at Jack Trice Stadium is different for Knipfel. The 6-6, 305-pounder grew up running around the hillsides cheering on the Cyclones. He always dreamed of this moment and now he lives it.
“This has been a dream come true,” Knipfel said. “Growing up in a small town not a lot of guys get a chance to play at the highest level. Being that kid that used to watch the guys play on Saturdays, and now being the guy that plays, is really special. Hopefully I’m a role model and someone that those kids up on the hillside want to be someday.”
Olson didn’t receive the spotlight like the others coming out of high school. He helped Ankeny High School win a state title in 2012, but the Division I offers didn’t come. He decided to pursue his dreams, however, and decided to walk-on at Iowa State.
After spending three years on defense, Olson switched to the offensive line and has solidified his spot with 21-straight starts. He was recently named a nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy, given annually to the nation’s best football player who began his career as a walk-on.
It was an amazing transition for Olson, but he admits he had a little help from his friends.
“Having guys like Julian, Bryce and Josh has helped me tremendously,” Olson said. “Just being able to learn from them. If I didn’t have those guys, I don’t know if I would have made it. I was able look at the way they go to work and just follow their role. I’m able to ask them questions and I am great friends with all of them, so I can talk to them about anything. They’ve been a tremendous support in my life, all three of them.”
The camaraderie the four have nurtured aiming for a common goal is perhaps their greatest achievement.
“It’s been awesome,” Meeker said. “I have known Julian for a long time. Collin Olson is one of my roommates. Being so close has given us confidence as a unit. As we all have become seniors, it has brought us unity.”
And unity has brought success.