Editor's note: The Iowa State Daily sports desk will have a spring preview of each position group for the Cyclones heading into the 2021 season. You can find other position group stories here.
Like most of Iowa State's roster from a season ago, the linebacking core for the Cyclones had a season to remember in 2020.
Between Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Mike Rose, Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP O'Rien Vance and one of the breakout players for the Cyclones in Jake Hummel, Iowa State's starting trio of linebackers has the pedigree to be one of the best in the Big 12 come this fall.
Iowa State assistant/linebackers coach Tyson Veidt and Cyclone linebackers met with the media Wednesday to discuss their approach this spring and how they see themselves getting better.
For those that forgot, here's just a quick reminder of the starters returning in the linebackers room:
Mike Rose — 2020 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-American by The Athletic, Second Team All-American by the Associated Press, 2020 First Team All-Big 12
O'Rien Vance — Defensive MVP of Fiesta Bowl, started the last two years at middle linebacker with 7.5 sacks over the last two seasons
Jake Hummel — 2020 was his first year starting in the linebacking unit and finished second on the team with 77 tackles
But as has become a mantra for Matt Campbell's Cyclones, none of them are satisfied with what was accomplished in seasons past. As the media found out over Zoom on Wednesday, Iowa State's linebackers and position coach feel their is more for the unit to attain.
Veidt and the rest of the Cyclones aren't blind to how historic last season was for the program — A Fiesta Bowl victory. Big 12 Championship appearance. Highest College Football Playoff ranking ever.
All of that's nice, but Veidt and his group want more and truly believe they can use the spring to tune up themselves to get to that point.
“We certainly all feel like we left a lot of things out there too, so those are the things we’re working on as we advance through the springtime,” Veidt said.
Iowa State is focusing on mastering finishing through plays and understanding assignments all the way during a play, not just when the whistle first blows.
Even for players like Rose and Vance, Veidt said the springtime hasn't been a time to relax and take it easy for those and other Cyclones. There are aspects of everyone's game that needs improving, even for the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
“I would think as you would ask Mike [Rose], 'Geez, is this the finality, is this the end of it? You were the Big 12 [Defensive] Player of the Year?’ He would not agree with that. He would believe there’s more for him and us, especially as a defense, to accomplish beyond postseason awards or preseason awards," Veidt said.
What about Hummel? After starting his Cyclone career on the special team unit, Hummel has slowly creeped his way into bigger roles, eventually breaking out and into the starting lineup in 2020.
The fifth-year Cyclone tallied 77 tackles last season, along with 4.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
The NCAA offered a blanket waiver for any player who was potentially out of eligibility to return for an extra season due to the challenges of COVID-19. Hummel exercised that opportunity, even stating he knew right away when he heard of that chance that he would come back for another year.
"I knew I was going to have it and I knew right away I was going to come back and after last season I'm even more hungry to get better," Hummel said.
He works with the younger players on the depth chart, leading them in his work ethic and drive. Veidt said Hummel's return in 2021 shows his commitment to the team and love for football.
Veidt and other coaches saw Hummel play his best football of his season at the Fiesta Bowl back in January, a welcome sign to coaches for a player who has continued to earn the confidence from his coaching staff.
“He’s trying to be the Big 12 Player of the Year in my opinion. That’s how he’s working and I think we all notice that here on campus every day," Veidt said.
Preparing the rest of the room
Rose, Vance and Hummel might grab the attention of those asking about the Cyclones' linebacking core, but Hummel and Veidt spoke about the importance of having second-string players ready for action at any moment as compared to last year.
"We can do a better job of having the second-string guys ready to go," Hummel said. "They're a good group of guys and talented dudes and we want to get them on the field more for sure."
One of those players is Gerry Vaughn, a redshirt junior who played in all 12 games last season for Iowa State. Vaughn put up 24 tackles and a fumble recovery as a reserve.
Vaughn said he's continued to stay locked in and stay patient as he sits behind some of the best linebackers in program history. In order to be ready like his teammates and coaches expect, Vaughn said he's come more prepared to practice and more precise in his work.
That drive and a patience comes from a player like Hummel, who like Vaughn, started as a special teams contributor before making his way up the depth chart.
"[Hummel is] a true leader for our room," Vaughn said.
Other key backups like Aric Horne and Dae'Shawn Davis are expected to take another step forward in the program and could become valuable pieces on the field in the near future.
Vaughn and his new approach to practice and preparation this spring has caught the eye of Hummel.
"Gerry's a really talented player for sure," Hummel said. "I noticed that right when he came here."