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Paintball, softball helping build Iowa State offseason camaraderie

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Iowa State

Sure, there’s been plenty of football in Ames this offseason. But there’s also been other activities such as paintball prior to Big 12 Media Days and a softball tournament over Memorial Day Weekend. These are the kind of team bonding experiences Matt Campbell is trying to bring to Iowa State football as he continues to rebuild the program.

“It was the linebackers and offensive line as a group and wide receivers and cornerbacks as a group, and everyone was playing each other,” quarterback turned linebacker Joel Lanning said about the softball tournament. “It was like a round-robin tournament and whoever won out of the players got to play the coaches.” 

It’s these kind of small things that Coach Campbell is looking to implement and add to build team bonding and make sure this group is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

In talking to several of the players, that feeling of team unity is unlike anything some of the veterans have seen during their time in Ames. Rising redshirt senior Jake Campos told Heartland College Sports, “The biggest thing is he’s [Campbell] brought the team together. Our team chemistry is in places I’ve never seen it. Everyone truly cares about each other and everyone is focused under that one team goal to go win games.” 

Iowa State had fallen on tough times in recent seasons. After going to three bowl games in four seasons from 2009 to 2012, the Cyclones have gone 3-9, 2-10, 3-9 and 3-9 the past four years. But last year’s 3-9 felt different, with plenty of optimism around Ames following Campbell’s first season on the job. Iowa State lost five of it’s nine games by 10 points or less, including to some of the best in the Big 12 such as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Additionally, Jacob Park emerged as a top quarterback, Joel Lanning selflessly moved to linebacker, and Allen Lazard decided to forego the NFL Draft and come back for his senior season.

“I’m the type of person that’s going to do anything for the team… I’m trying to set that example as someone who will do anything for the team because in the past there have been guys in the past who have been playing for themselves,” Lanning admitted. “That’s why there hasn’t really been that team camaraderie around, but it’s changed a lot here with that. Everyone’s super close and hanging out all the time. Coach is having us do team activities and we’re hanging out outside of football.” 

Jake Campos also admitted to a somewhat fracture locker room earlier in his career in Ames, saying, “Player-wise, there were a lot of conflicting personalities the first couple of years I was here. There were just individuals and the guys here, especially in my class and the one below me, have seen the fractured program we truly dedicated ourselves to stepping up and bringing the team together. It’s really started within the team and built its way up.” 

These things happen all the time from high school sports up to professional sports. Teams don’t gel for whatever reason(s). But if the coaching staff isn’t on top of its game in trying to remedy these issues, a team will never reach its full potential. That clearly is not a problem in Ames.

This group is confident and focused, with star wide receiver Allen Lazard adding, “Everyone is more comfortable. There’s not as much uncertainty as what is going to happen. We know we are going to come in and have great success this year and that we are going to come out these first few games and hit the ground running.” 

There’s no doubt the first two on the schedule, Northern Iowa and Iowa, will be revenge games for this team. Last season, the Cyclones lost their first two games to a pair of in-state teams in Northern Iowa and Iowa. Those games will be fresh atop the memories of these players as they look to really turn the corner in Year 2 under Matt Campbell.

As for what programs Matt Campbell is looking to emulate, he points to programs from both coasts, citing Oregon and Washington, along with Clemson. All programs have good football histories, but are not blue-blood programs such as USC, Ohio State and Florida State. Still, the three programs Campbell listed have had success beating those tradition-rich programs in recent years.

Campbell added, “You’re talking about some of the new kids on the block who have come in and put a stake hold and maybe built their program a lot more through culture than they did through consistently running the football-factory type program where you’re getting every five-star guy. That aspect is a lot more realistic for who we are and where we’re going at Iowa State.” 

Campbell is realistic about what he’s trying to build at Iowa State, but at the same time isn’t going to put a ceiling on what the potential is for Cyclones football. It’s a refreshing confidence that is already paying dividends ahead of the 2017 season.

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