AMES – The way Matt Campbell talks, his young, inexperienced team is something akin to a start-up company.
Lots of upside. Plenty of volatility.
“When you are young, the growth pattern probably has the ability to accelerate,” Campbell said Tuesday, “and go with a lot more ebb and flow than when you’re an older team.”
Iowa State hasn’t been this young in some time. It got players on the field early in their careers in the early days of Campbell’s tenure, and they stayed there for years as they and the Cyclones thrived in the most successful era in program history.
The new youth and inexperience, though, haven’t kept the Cyclones from their first perfect three-game start to a season since 2012.
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“I think this young team has really had the willingness and humility to grow,” Campbell said. “You have to have that as well, and the right Veteran leadership as well to guide the growth pattern the way it’s been able to grow so far.”
Now Iowa State (3-0) takes that growth pattern into the Big 12, where Defending conference Champion No. 17 Baylor (2-1) awaits in the league opener Saturday in Ames (11 am; ESPN2).
“There’s so much room to grow, just from Game 1 to even now,” first-year starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers said. “Going into Game 4, you should expect more. That’s super exciting for our team.”
One area where Iowa State needs to see growth is on special teams, where true freshman kicker Jace Gilbert had a point-after blocked and true freshman Tyler Perkins had two punts blocked against Iowa.
“There’s two young pups in terms of the kickers and the punters, so operationally we’ve got to continue to be the best we can be in some of those situations,” Campbell said. “From a protection standpoint, they’re not as clean as they could be either. I actually think both of those situations are a combination of both.
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“When you have young players at some of those positions, you’re kind of going to go through a little bit of growing pain to be your best here as we get down the stretch run.”
For Iowa State, though, the issues that have emerged in the first three games represent an opportunity.
“We haven’t played our best ball yet,” sixth-year senior Anthony Johnson said, “which is to me, it’s good we have something to work for, and we have a lot of things we have to clean up.
“Not satisfied at all.”
There’s also confidence that the team’s preparation has equipped it to take advantage of those opportunities.
“We have some great veteran leadership in our locker room,” tight end DeShawn Hanika said. “We all came together this offseason. It was a lot harder offseason than we’ve had in the past, which was good for us, being young. The coaching staff pushed a lot of us to our limits.”
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The Bears, though, present a different sort of test than offseason workouts or Iowa State’s three non-conference opponents.
“We’ll have another measuring stick of how far we’ve grown and where we really are,” Campbell said. “I really like the humility and how this group has attacked growth and we’ll all need to continue to do that to move forward.”
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or (515) 284-8000. Ffollow him at @TravisHines21.