There’s two things for certain Iowa State coach Matt Campbell loves: football and “the process.”
This week, those two collided with spring practices picking up and players’ season of improvement starting.
“We were fortunate we were able to have a spring practice before we left for spring break, but it’s great to have this team back,” Campbell said after Tuesday’s practice. “This football team, so far, the first two or three months — it’s been a team that’s come back with a purpose.
“I really appreciate that about this group, and I think the thing that I really like about this team is being able to coach them because they’re self-starters.”
Campbell oozed with passion discussing his team and the strides its made since Iowa State’s Alamo Bowl loss. Campbell shows even more passion when it comes to the offseason and kicking off another cycle of the program’s “process”. Campbell loves running drills on the Bergstrom Indoor Training Facility’s turf like a house cat loves stretching out in the sunlight, and rightfully so, too.
His passion displayed itself midway during the drills when the freshness of the practice wore off, but the smile plastered on Campbell’s face stayed put.
Campbell and seven other coaches each grabbed a foam pad and lined up with four on each side facing each other and forming a tunnel. Quarterbacks and offensive skills players charged between the two lines of coaches with a ball tucked under their arms.
Campbell and his crew reared back and hacked at the players like a major leaguer taking batting practice to promote ball security. After the line of players trickled through, Campbell remained engaged and smiling.
While ball security and other fundamental drills aren’t the most glamourous drills for the dozens of players in shorts and shoulder pads, they’re still important.
As cliche as Campbell’s focus on the details and offseason is for coaches, it truly is a key piece to the growth and development of a program.
The team has holes to fill in the offseason, too. Running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Hakeem Butler were in the facilities on Tuesday, but they were there working on Pro Day drills in preparation for the NFL Draft in April.
With the departures of Montgomery and Butler to the league, the keys to the Cyclones offense solely fall into the hands of sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy.
Purdy mesmerized fans in Jack Trice Stadium and Big 12 venues around the country with his pump fakes, his bombs to Butler and his poise beyond his years. Even with all his success, Purdy missed out on the opportunity to run with the first-teamers last spring — a luxury he possesses for his sophomore campaign.
With the responsibility of orchestrating the team through the spring, Purdy also shoulders a bigger role with non-physical traits.
“I think that complete evolution of who the true leader is in this program,” Campbell said of what he wants Purdy to gain in the spring. “Brock is a naturally born leader in a lot of ways. He commands the best of himself everyday. I think greatness comes when you have the ability to demand that of everybody else around you.”
Campbell’s words provide a lofty responsibility for a sophomore who turned 19 years old a few months ago.
Purdy, though, recognized his role expanding throughout the season last year as he gained more exposure inside the Cyclone offense, and he benefitted from having sixth year senior Kyle Kempt assist him in his first college season.
"From [when] I first stepped onto campus, I was kind of a little quiet here and there, but after I started playing we all opened up," Purdy said in January. "That's where we grew and had success."
While there’s still 155 days until Iowa State kicks off with Northern Iowa in Jack Trice Stadium — assuming there’s no South Dakota State game-like monsoon — the most important steps in Purdy’s progression may be taking place under the roof of the Bergstrom Indoor Training Facility.