As the Iowa State football team prepares for the 2016 season, first-year head coach Matt Campbell says the values that make Iowa farmers Farm Strong — hard work, commitment and integrity — align perfectly with his vision for the Cyclone football program.
"I think the Farm Strong mentality fits this region, fits our football program and fits our university," he says. "Those foundational traits of toughness and character and work ethic and all those things that are so parallel to the region and the area. (We’re) really grateful to have that Farm Strong name linked to both the university and to, hopefully, what our football program stands for both on and off the field."
The Iowa Farm Bureau is continuing its partnership with Cyclone Sports Properties to promote the Farm Strong initiative at ISU football games and other athletic events this year.
The son of a high school football coach, Campbell was hired last November to lead the Cyclones football program after compiling a 35-15 record in four seasons as the head coach at Toledo. Included in that total was a two-overtime win over ISU last year and a seven-point loss to the Cyclones in 2014, which Campbell says exposed him to the passion of ISU fans and helped convince him that Iowa State was the right place for him.
"I think it’s one of the best fan bases in college athletics right now," he says. "When our Toledo team came here two years ago, we were blown away by that experience, by what the fan base looked like and by what the fan base felt like — the passion and energy that ran through Jack Trice Stadium that day."
Strong fan support
The support and loyalty of Cyclone fans is a one of the greatest selling points for the ISU football staff on the recruiting trail, Campbell says.
A highlight of many on-campus recruiting visits is watching a men’s basketball game to experience "Hilton Magic" first-hand and "using that great fan base to show student-athletes why would you want to be come here, why would you want to be part of a program like this," he says. "It was a great perspective when you went into Hilton Coliseum and see that place rockin’ and rollin’ every Tuesday night or Saturday night or Monday night. It didn’t matter when. That was really fun to watch."
And while Campbell is yet to sign his first class of recruits at ISU, the Cyclones are getting noticed. Some national recruiting experts say the Cyclones are among the top 25 in team recruiting rankings for 2017.
Parallels to farming
In addition to hard-nosed play on the field, the 36-year-old Campbell demands his players exhibit respect and community service off the field, characteristics he says are common from his upbringing in Ohio to what he sees in Iowa’s farmers.
"There’s a lot of parallels from the state of Ohio to the state of Iowa, at least in terms of background and culture," he says.
"The biggest thing that I’ve always believed in is how do you get your program, and everything that touches your program, to have these foundational core values of great attitude and great effort," he says. "That doesn’t take any talent to control that on a day-in, day-out basis. To have those qualities and that ability to show up every day, that’s not easy to do. But when it’s done, it has an incredible result on your program being able to reach its full potential."
Campbell said he gained an appreciation for Iowa’s agricultural prowess and work ethic as he traveled across the state to meet fans and high school football coaches.
"The pride in what I’ve seen in this state is second to none," he says. "As I got a chance to go out and continue to be educated in the world of agriculture, what the university stands for first and foremost … and then being able to see the state of Iowa, to see what the production is (and) what’s going on in this state, it’s really impressive."
Itching to start
The 36-year-old coach is itching to lead his team out on to the field for its Sept. 3 season-opener against Northern Iowa to see the progress his players have made during the off-season.
He’s accustomed to success, having played on three Division III national championship teams at Mount Union in Ohio. Toledo made Campbell the youngest head coach in major college football at 32 years of age in 2011, and he led the Rockets to bowl games in three of his four seasons at the helm. He’s aiming to build and maintain a similar tradition of long-term success at Iowa State.
"The greatest expectations we have for ourselves right now is how can we lay a great foundation to our program going forward," he says. "What’s our work ethic like? How do we play the game? Do our kids play hard from the beginning of the game to the end of the game?
"I think us establishing those core values (is) really going to give us a rock solid foundation to build off of, and build it to last."