GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Matt Campbell was announced as Iowa State’s new football head coach in late 2015, he brought with him a vision to turn around the Iowa State football program.
One of the first things Campbell did as the newly-hired head coach was bring in Iowa State’s 2016 recruiting class.
A recruiting class that featured some names that eventually turned into cornerstone pieces of a revamped Iowa State football program just a few years down the road from their recruitment.
Cornerstone pieces that included the likes JaQuan Bailey, Chase Allen, Eyioma Uwazurike, Dylan Soehner, Sean Foster and Lawrence White.
Things didn’t always seem so pretty for this group.
The first season they ever experienced in the cardinal and gold, the Cyclones recorded a less-than-desirable 3-9 season under the first year of the Matt Campbell era.
“It’s funny. I just got done telling these guys, the three years prior to coming here -- 3-9, 2-10, 3-9 -- and we recruit all these guys with a hope and a dream,” Campbell said. “And then all of a sudden, we’re 3-9 year one.”
Over the course of the next few seasons, the Cyclones would reel in other recruits, either out of high school or from the junior college ranks, that would help turn Iowa State football around.
Fast forward from the 2016 season to the 2020 season and everything has changed.
While some of Iowa State seniors may have started with a sour taste in their mouth, the closing moments of the 2020 season and the process leading up to it were anything but sour for those seniors.
After a scare of potentially no college football due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the final decision to play a limited season, Iowa State didn’t necessarily start off on the right foot, with a season-opening loss to Louisiana.
But after that, the veteran led Cyclone team recorded one of the most historic seasons in school history, including its first ever eight win conference record and helped Iowa State make its first ever appearance in the Big 12 Championship game.
“So those guys are really the difference-makers for this program, of getting it to where it is right now,” Iowa State junior quarterback Brock Purdy said. “So we’re going to continue to build off what they’re started and I’ll forever be grateful for them, and I’ll always love those guys.”
While the Cyclones fell short in their hopes of capturing a Big 12 Championship, they bounced back to make their first appearance in a New Year's Six bowl game and proceeded to win one of the biggest games in school history.
While players are still able to return for another season if they choose to because the NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the last glimpses of Iowa State’s ‘Most Winningest Class’ in school history is with the seniors wearing Iowa State PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Champion shirts after defeating Oregon.
The seniors made big plays on both sides of the ball, which helped the Cyclones to their historic bowl game win.
The game started out with Purdy connecting with Landen Akers for a 16 yard completion, which helped the wheels of the Cyclones get rolling in their 34 point performance.
On the defensive side of the ball, the seniors helped the Cyclone defense limit the Oregon offense to only 17 points and allowing three points during the second half, while making big plays, like Lawrence White sniffing out a play that resulted in a 10 yard loss for Oregon in the drive that ended with Oregon fumbling the ball and Iowa State recovering it.
The senior group and the leadership they provided was one thing that Campbell consistently talked about throughout the 2020 season and he saw it fitting how this group closed out their time at Iowa State, especially after the struggles from year one.
“I think it’s so fitting that, as we leave here, and this senior class leaves here now 9-3, they really flipped the script the entire way,” Campbell said. “Maybe for some programs, that’s easy to do; but I think you guys know the history of this program for the last 100-plus years. It’s not real easy to do here. And this group did it.
“This group literally rewrote the history books. And we wouldn’t be here without their leadership as well.”