A bitter end for Arnaud


Photo: Tim Reuter/Iowa State Daily

Quarterback Austen Arnaud attempts to escape Nebraska defense during the game Satuday, Nov. 6, at Jack Trice Stadium.

Jeremiah Davis

BOULDER, Colo. — Last week the ISU football team left Jack Trice Stadium heartbroken. It left Folsom Field heartbroken on Saturday as well, but for a different reason.

The Cyclones’ oft-maligned but undisputed leader Austen Arnaud had left the game with a knee injury described as “significant” by coach Paul Rhoads, and likely won’t ever be back on the field for the Cyclones. It’s not known for certain at this point, but by the sound of Rhoads after the game and what he relayed from team doctors, it’s doubtful.

If his career as a Cyclone is in fact over, he’ll end as statistically one of the best Cyclone signal callers ever. The numbers speak for themselves: second all-time in passing yardage, completions, touchdowns and total offense. He’ll finish as the all-time leader in passing completion percentage at 59.7 percent.

Let’s also remember that Arnaud does have a bowl win to his credit. That’s something Seneca Wallace — a guy a lot of people consider the best Cyclone quarterback — can’t say. It’s likely that years from now people will look back on his career by the numbers and see just how much his production meant to the team.

As a three-year starter and a fifth-year senior, Arnaud has been through three head coaches and some of the most tumultuous times in the program’s history. There were times where he could’ve given up completely, but he didn’t.

After the man who recruited him, Dan McCarney, was fired, Arnaud stayed and eventually competed with Phillip Bates for the starting job. During that forgettable 2008 season, his effort didn’t waiver, and when things seemed to be at their lowest after Gene Chizik left, he stuck around to play under Rhoads.

Through every “We want Tiller” chant from the student section and chorus of boos over the last three years, he held his head high with the support of his teammates and never shied away from the spotlight or criticism of being a team’s starting quarterback. A lesser person and player might have reacted much worse to some of the things that have been said about him.

There are a lot of fans who would criticize him severely after a poor performance, then tell him how much they love him after a good game. I saw that in full effect at the pep rally after the win at Texas. But his attitude — at least outwardly — toward the Cyclone fans never changed.

Think about what this program would be without him. Say what you want about Jerome Tiller, and what he might be someday, but he was not ready as a freshman in 2008, or as a redshirt freshman last season, to lead the team and be the face of the program. The players feed off leadership, and what they got in Arnaud was consistency.

We all know that being the starting quarterback at a large school comes with some expectation that fans will love him when he’s good and hate him when he’s bad. That’s just how it is and always will be in football.

But at the end of the day, he’s still just a 22-year-old kid playing college football in the town where he grew up and for the team his dad played for in college. He was playing the game he loved and, for better or worse, was playing it as best he could.

It stings that he has to end his career here this way. That he can’t leave on his own terms this week against Missouri and at least give it one more shot at earning a bowl berth. Or that he can’t finish his career with a good performance. Because even though he might say otherwise, the sting of playing poorly in your last game sticks with you. Just look at Brett Favre.

As a football fan, I appreciate what Arnaud did over the last five years for his team and this town. He helped in breathing life back into a program that seemed dead two years ago.

For now though, all his teammates and coaches can do is be there for him. And fans should too, because he deserves that at the very least.