After toppling No. 22 Texas last weekend in Jack Trice Stadium and becoming bowl eligible for a third straight season, another milestone remains for the Cyclones.
Iowa State football will try for its seventh win of the year Saturday against Kansas to boost its bowl resume, but a more pressing mission will be at hand.
The goal: to send the 2020 senior class out with one last win at Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa State will have 20 seniors leave the team at the end of the season — players impactful on both sides of the ball that head coach Matt Campbell describes as players who trusted in Campbell and his staff with "blind faith" through it all.
Campbell said that players like Marcel Spears Jr., Ray Lima, Matt Leo, Deshaunte Jones, Steve Wirtel and others in their class had to buy in to a relatively unknown face like Campbell and the process he wanted to create.
The senior class has put his vision into a reality for the younger players behind them in the program, Campbell said. He also said that in today's world, loyalty and the willingness to stay the course is something that is uncommon — except in this senior class.
For Campbell, the unique aspect about the senior class is that all 20 players have been able to play for the Cyclones and have made impactful plays for their teammates.
One of those impactful players — like Spears — has shown up time and time again for Iowa State over his time as a Cyclone.
Whether it be Spears picking off Nic Shimonek and taking it all the way for a touchdown to seal a victory over Texas Tech in 2017 or his interception to clinch an upset over No. 4 TCU in the same year, Campbell said the play of Spears Jr. will be something to remember, but his character in the locker room and in practice make him worth remembering even more.
"Marcel is one of those guys that’s just got the ‘It’ factor," Campbell said. "He’s gonna go be really special in life when he’s done playing football and I think his ability to really take another huge step forward culturally in this program, especially this offseason, and really take the bull by the horns and really have the ability to stand up in hard times and lead; it’s been really impressive."
Coming into his final home game as a Cyclone, Spears has amassed 150 tackles, six sacks and four interceptions.
Spears said that it took time for him and other now-seniors to buy into Campbell and his vision. Spears said faith and trust in the process would pay off, and now, with his final home game closing in, he has no regrets.
Now, he and his fellow seniors want to be the ones who laid the foundation for a better future for younger players on the roster.
"These seniors that stand next to me, they’ve done a lot, they’ve put in a lot of work that people don’t understand," Spears said. "The legacy that we’re trying to leave is just, you know, we’re trying to just push seeds into the ground so they can flourish for the ones that come after us. That’s all we’re trying to do. We’re trying to leave the jersey in a better place."
While La'Michael Pettway is a senior, he only joined Iowa State in May after transferring from Arkansas.
Pettway has been with the Cyclones for less than a full season, but could tell that the senior leadership in the building was real and made him fit right in immediately.
Pettway said that Iowa State and the culture he has grown to be a part of wasn't always as inviting and on the same page as it is now. In Pettway's view, credit goes to the 2020 senior class and its belief.
"From what I heard it was totally different than what it is now, and I credit these seniors because it’s their doing," Pettway said. "It was a player-led thing; like I said, these seniors welcomed me in. I feel like that culture changed and I feel like I’m a part of that culture."
So when Senior Day arrives, the Cyclones will look to not only grab their seventh win of the season, but also reflect on a senior class that has changed so much within the walls of Iowa State football.
"It’s a really special group, a group that means a great deal to me and a group that has had a huge impact on not just now, but the future of this football program," Campbell said.