College football: Cyclones look to rise up by trusting the process

·5 min read

Aug. 3—AMES — Trust the process.

Entering his seventh season at the helm of the Iowa State football program, Matt Campbell is focused on the same goal that he had when took over as head coach of the Cyclones in 2016.

"For us, it's always the cultural aspects of who we are and what we're continuing to do," Campbell said. "I don't think that's changed much at all. I think we've doubled down since January on our culture, the strength of our culture and how it impacts who we are and how we continue to grow together."

Campbell, owner of the program's best winning percentage (.553), is coming off guiding Iowa State to a fifth straight winning season and a fifth straight bowl appearance. While focusing on the same goals heading into the 2022 season, Campbell is fully aware of the ever-changing landscape of college football with teams changing conferences including the most-recent news earlier this summer that UCLA and USC will be joining the Big Ten Conference.

"It's constantly asking you and your program how your defining yourself," Campbell said. "From that standpoint, I think we've continued to double down on the foundational pieces that have built Iowa State football over the last six to seven years.

"As we continue to grow and adapt, every year is definitely different. It's a younger team, so how do you prepare that team from the January-February-March period to the spring practice period, the summer period and now into fall camp. I think we've spent the past couple weeks trying to prepare us to have the best camp to give this team the best chance to have the most success this season."

Campbell has been impressed with the momentum that the current group of Cyclone football players have been able to build from each period throughout the offseason. Many of the same traits that have led previous Iowa State football teams under the guidance of Campbell to successful seasons are in place as Iowa State prepares for a season that will see several new players stepping up to replace one of the winningest senior classes in the history of the program.

"This will be a great challenge for us," Campbell said. "That's part of the excitement heading into every season."

No player figures to be under a brighter spotlight for the Cyclones this season than Hunter Dekkers. The former all-state standout from West Sioux takes over the reigns as starting quarterback for Iowa State, stepping up to replace Brock Purdy who set 32 different Iowa State records while starting 46 consecutive games, leading the Cyclones to the Big 12 title game and a win in the Fiesta Bowl in 2020.

Dekkers played in four games as Purdy's backup last season, completing 20 of 36 pass attempts for 193 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 61 yards on four carries and a score. In two seasons, Dekkers has played in seven games going 25-43 passing for 311 yards and three touchdowns with seven rushes for 73 yards and two touchdowns.

Dekkers will make his first start at quarterback when Iowa State kicks off the 2022 season at home against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 3. Campbell has plenty of confidence that Dekkers will be able to fill some big shoes.

"What impresses me the most about Hunter is how much he's taken advantage of the opportunities he's already had in games," Campbell said. "It's not so much hypothetical. He's been able to get on the field and command of the offense. I think those experiences, whether they were positive or not as positive in some cases, were great learning opportunities. Those are always positive for me as the coach."

There will be some big shoes for the Cyclones heading into a 2022 season filled with questions. Record setters like Purdy, Breece Hall and Charlie Kolar have moved on. All told, 23 seniors graduated from last year's 7-6 squad.

The cupboard is hardly bare, however. Iowa State returns wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, a finalists for the Maxwell and Biletnikoff awards, Remington and Outland Trophy candidate Trevor Downing on the offensive line and returning defensive end Will McDonald who is a Bronco Nagurski candidate after leading the Big 12 in sacks with 11.5 last season. Hutchinson and McDonald are both on the watch list for the Walter Camp player of the year award heading into the season.

"People will come up to me a thousand times and ask me what kind of team do I think we have? You don't know and you're not going to know until you get into the season and you're out there playing in front of 70,000 fans trying to exectue and do their jobs," Campbell said. "We're always going to play to the strengths of our players. I think the mirage of last season was the the No. 1 passing offense in the Big 12 was Iowa State. I think we create narratives that are not always accurate.

"At the end of the day, we're trying to put our players in the best position possible whether it's at the quarterback position, the skill positions or any other positions on the field. What kind of team do you have around Hunter Dekkers? What are some of these other resources and people that you have? Our job is to put those pieces in place so, when the game is on the line and it's time to execute plays, how do you put the team in the best position to win? I think our staff has done a phenomenal job of that."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.