Football is a team sport, Breece Hall will probably be the first one to tell you that. But as he announced this weekend he was leaving for the NFL Draft, I think back on his career with the Iowa State Cyclones and there will be one moment that forever sticks out in my mind as his defining moment. Oh and it wasn’t a big touchdown run or a cutback for a 50-yard gain. It was something he said.
After Iowa State beat Texas on Black Friday 2020, which essentially clinched them a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game, Hall made his now famous comment, “It’s a five-star culture vs. five-star players.”
That game and that quote will forever be linked together as Hall, who rushed for over 90 yards and a touchdown as well, perfectly encapsulated why Iowa State was exceeding all expectations and beating Texas in a game that was likely going to determine who played Oklahoma in the 2020 Big 12 Championship Game.
And it was so appropriate that it came from Breece Hall, who himself, embodies the five-star culture, and then turned himself into a five-star player, an All-American, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (twice) and future NFL Draft pick after just three seasons in college.
Don’t get me wrong, Hall wasn’t a scrub coming out of high school, he was considered a three or four-star prospect, depending which service you used, and was considered one of the best players in the state of Kansas (Wichita). But as his former high school coach let the world know last year after Iowa State beat Oklahoma, he told former OU coach Lincoln Riley to take a closer look at Breece Hall. It never happened.
Of course, it worked out just fine. And in fact, it’s stories like that, along with this piece in the Des Moines Register, discussing how Hall played JV his sophomore year of high school, since his coaches felt he needed more work on the little things. He blossomed his junior and senior years, where he rushed for over 4,000 yards combined.
But as Hall stepped foot in Ames, he began to make an immediate impact. He was ready. Whether it was his breakout three-touchdown game against West Virginia as a freshman, his 130+ rushing yards in an upset of Oklahoma in 2020, or the 242 yards he piled up against TCU, which will be the last time we see him in a Cyclones uniform, Hall was a guy who always led by example, a consummate professional, and held himself to a higher standard than anyone around him.
The turnaround of the Iowa State football program was already happening by the time Hall stepped on campus in 2019, but he helped take it to the next level with a Big 12 Championship Game appearance and a Fiesta Bowl victory. These types of moments were unprecedented for Iowa State football.
And while yes the recruiting had improved, these were not the five-star players heading to the Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma Sooners and elsewhere around college football. These were players without the most starts, but who had not just listened to Matt Campbell talk about a “five-star culture”, but actually lived and breathed it. And it showed on the field for Iowa State.
As a result, the Cyclones are now recruiting Top-30 classes in the nation on the field, but it’s because of guys like Breece Hall, and many others around him in the program, that while the stars of the players might improve, the five-star culture is here to stay in Ames.
And as we learn time and time again, that five-star culture can beat the five-star player. Breece Hall was an example of exactly that.